Keeping the Curtain Raised on Nascent Film Industry

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Consultant fights Lansing’s proposal to cap industry tax incentives at $25M

Jennifer Shane is one of a rare breed: an L.A. transplant working in the film industry who moved back home to Detroit and built a successful business.

Shane, 37, who returned to Detroit in 2002 after her mother was stricken with cancer, was working locally as an events planner when her furlough from Hollywood came to an abrupt end, courtesy of Michigan’s film industry tax credits.

Shortly after the country’s most generous state tax incentives were offered in 2008 — up to 42 percent of a crew’s in-state production costs — Shane began receiving phone calls from former colleagues in Los Angeles who were contemplating location work in Michigan.

“People had heard through the grapevine that I had substantial film industry experience,” Shane said. “Random offers to consult started to come in. I was able to help some people I had worked with in L.A. get to the right people in Michigan for their projects.”

Within a year of the incentives’ enactment, the former development executive at Los Angeles-based Artists Management Group founded Michigan Film Source, a resource locater for out-of-state film and TV productions.

“We help promote local, Michigan-based crew and production services — everything that’s based here in Michigan, from caterers and prop houses to armories and music license libraries,” said Shane.

Helped in part by CommunityNEXT, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit program that actively tries to retain young, Jewish talent in Michigan, Shane received free office space in Bingham Farms for one year.

Detroiter Marjorie Rudick was working at CommunityNEXT at the time.

“I’m an L.A. transplant who worked in the film industry and came back home to Michigan as well,” Rudick said. “Jennifer and I struck up a friendship, and she referred me to the production of Close Quarters, where I became the assistant to the executive producer.”

Shane, who is a Detroit Country Day School alum, has built a database of local film crews. She’s helped people land jobs on big-name films, including Transformers 3, Salvation Boulevard and Hostel: Part III, among others.

Carl Ballou, owner of Novi-based Axis Media, had his name in Shane’s database and landed work as a digital imaging technician on the film Family Weekend, starring Kristin Chenoweth and slated for release in 2011.

“She connected me with people I never would have been able to meet before,” said Ballou. Those contacts are helping him grow his company, which does short features, music videos and promos.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent budget proposal to cap Michigan’s film incentives at $25 million per year threatens her film business, Shane said, and moving back to L.A. isn’t an option.

“It’s hard to raise a family there,” said the Birmingham resident and mother of two, adding that following Snyder’s announcement, she instantly saw a drop-off in business. “Within days, several production companies I was working with put their plans on hold,” she said.

Now, actively working to save the industry, she has teamed up with other film industry professionals to lobby lawmakers. Shane is emphatic that the incentives are still needed while the industry works to build an infrastructure and a crew base in the state. She said every $1 dollar the state spends on incentives generates $6 in economic activity.

According to a recent analysis by the Detroit News, since the film incentives debuted two years ago Michigan has approved $368.2 million in tax rebates on $938.6 million in qualified spending.

Currently, 43 projects, including movies, television shows, video games and music videos, are seeking a combined $129.3 million in incentives.

Producers of the projects stated they would spend $324 million in the state and hire 14,562 people, including film extras, according to applications filed with the Michigan Film Office and obtained by the Detroit News through the Freedom of Information Act.

Yet, the nearly $130 million being sought from producers is seven times the $17.9 million the Michigan Film Office says it has left to award. While the Legislature still must approve the governor’s plan, the film office is operating under his $25 million target.

What might be harder to quantify, Shane said, is the industry’s impact on creative young people, many of them Jewish, who want to work in the film industry. She hopes the governor and Legislature will reach a middle ground that allows for the industry’s survival.

“If Snyder’s proposal goes through, it will kill the industry in the state,” she said. “Those young people who were counting on Michigan having a film industry will be forced to move.” RT

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