Near the End?
Michigan Film Incentive Program faces elimination.
Eddie Rubin entered the University of Michigan aspiring to a law degree. He enrolled in some film classes strictly out of personal interests.
Rubin’s priorities soon changed, and he majored in film. He began making movies in his sophomore year.
After graduation, when there would be no conflict of interest, Rubin teamed with a favorite instructor, experienced screenwriter Jim Burnstein, to make Love and Honor, shown On Demand by cable providers.
The emerging producer counted on a Michigan Film Incentive to help fund his first project locally and went on to make more Michigan-based movies with similar funding. Most recently, Rubin was executive producer of The Pickle Recipe.
Just after filming finished on that project last month, Michigan’s legislature was letting him down again. On June 18, the state Senate voted on the bill to end incentives once
offered to entice the production of movies, TV shows and video games to Michigan. The legislation is now waiting for approval or disapproval by the governor. If he agrees, there will be no new money for the program after Oct. 1, 2016.
Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the bill. His spokesperson says he looks over every bill closely before making final decisions. There are plans, however, to maintain the nearly 40-year-old Michigan Film Office.
Before administering incentives established in 2008 to reimburse 25 percent of qualified production costs, the office provided production resource information.
“When I graduated college in 2009, my timing was perfect for film opportunities, and I tried to make that work in Michigan,” Rubin says. “Ninety-nine percent of my cast and crew were from the state.
“Now, I’m trying to figure out what to do. I don’t want to make a final decision because lawmakers have flip-flopped before. This is all beyond frustrating.”
Rubin is among many local Jewish community members who have enhanced their earning capacities through feature film, television and video projects advanced in the state. Their concerns, beyond personal financial security, involve statewide interests in job growth, business diversity, retention of young talent and positive impressions experienced by visiting professionals.
Burnstein, whose feature films include Renaissance Man and D3: The Mighty Ducks, served on the Michigan Film Office Advisory Council for nine years and was vice chairman.
“The lack of incentives won’t affect my work, but I won’t have the luxury of staying home to do it,” says Burnstein, who believes he will be spending more time in Georgia, where the Michigan incentives program has been successfully adapted.
Burnstein, who has worked with radio personality and writer Mitch Albom in advocating for incentives, has seen financial estimates that project a $5-$6 economic impact for every $1 in incentives.
While trying to help build an indigenous film industry in Michigan, Burnstein has seen the positive effects of internship opportunities and technician moves into the state.
Confident that the Michigan Film Office performs well in helping filmmakers with tasks like finding locations, he also is confident that the industry can’t be sustained without incentives.
“People need to realize that we are living in highly polarized political times when issues aren’t looked at in rational ways as they were in bipartisan times,” Burnstein says. “It’s part of a bigger problem with everything on party lines.”
Ken Droz, a film-industry consultant who worked on The Pickle Recipe, served almost three years as communications consultant for the Michigan Film Office. He also has advocated and done letter-writing in favor of keeping the incentives.
“In making independent films, every dollar is crucial so states can be very competitive when it comes to attracting filmmakers,” Droz says.
“I think it’s unfair for anyone to say that the incentives have failed because they don’t see the program operating as revenue neutral. The idea was to develop an infrastructure and workforce for a growing tax base.
“Schools opened up film-study programs and, without incentives, there will be a lack of jobs for people entering the field. One photographer I know is moving to Georgia because of the economic benefits offered there.”
Droz explains that film-related vendors, such as special-effects companies and caterers, have closed up and left the state because of incentive uncertainty.
Shortly before the legislature took its vote, a town hall meeting about the issues was arranged by Mark Adler, who does video assist work and serves as a founding director of the Michigan Production Alliance.
Adler, who has worked on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as well as cable and advertising projects, hoped to generate public enthusiasm for supporting incentives. To his dismay, the legislature voted before the meeting took place.
“There were no real answers, but we earned some money and got 60 new members,” Adler says about the meeting. “I want to stay in Michigan and work where I’ve worked for 30 years.
“I’m seeing work disappearing to places that have incentives, and I’m doing more with teleprompting and operating a roto camera for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the MotorCity Casino.”
Adler, who developed Production Algebra: A Handbook for Production Assistants, will be going on the road this summer with Steve Martin and Martin Short to do teleprompting. He met them through work in Michigan. “If Michigan wants to build a strong economy, government shouldn’t forsake the growth of another industry,” Adler says.
Elliot Wilhelm, director of the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts and host of Friday Night Film Festival on WTVS, has kept up with information about film projects produced in Michigan.
“I think that the funding was cut way too early because filmmakers were beginning to see all the resources available here,” Wilhelm says. “Oz the Great and Powerful was directed in Michigan by Sam Raimi, who grew up in the state, and the movie shows the technical quality of talented local crews.”
Wilhelm, who heard positive reactions from Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons as he showed them around the Detroit Institute of Arts, also has watched the excitement of young people responding to film projects.
“There’s a ripple effect in having people see the production riches that are incalculable as carried out by Michigan crews,” he says about incentive effects. “I think filmmaking has been a great morale booster and an uplift for tourism.”
By: Suzanne Chessler, Contributing Writer