With flicks like â€œMachine Gun Preacherâ€ starring Gerard Butler, â€œ30 Minutes of Lessâ€ by â€œZombielandâ€ director Ruben Fleicher, 50 Cent’s â€œLove Me or Love Me Notâ€ and Dreamworks’ $80 million sci-fi flick â€œReal Steel,â€ with Hugh Jackman, all set to start production in Detroit this summer, one has to wonder if the state is really banking on the hosting gig.
Dreamworks will film Real Steel with Hugh Jackman in Detroit
Long trailers, shooting equipment and people with headsets are as much a part of downtown Detroit today as the clenched black fist situated at its center. And while production crews gravitate to Detroit, setting two-thirds of their projects there, the truth is that they can go anywhere in Michigan and earn a 40-42% rebate from the state.
Time Warner Cable’s â€œPiranha 3Dâ€, MGM’s â€œRed Dawnâ€, Warner Bros’ â€œGrand Torinoâ€ and Paramount Pictures’ â€œUp in the Airâ€, are just some of the projects that have taken Michigan up on the generous offer. At this level of reimbursement, you can be sure that the rebate is not just helping studios make decisions about where to locate a project, but weighing heavily in debates about whether or not some films get made at all.
BRING YOUR A-GAME
Erica Hill, director of special events and film at the mayor’s Detroit Film Office, is not at all bashful about what the city has to offer: â€œWe position Detroit as a great deal; the best place at an incredible price. Detroit is notâ€¦the next Hollywood, we don’t have to be, we’re Detroit.â€
Production companies have taken notice of the area’s charms and incentives, turning out A-Listers, like Drew Barrymore, Wesley Snipes, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and Richard Gere, for big projects. And while their trade is the creation of all manner of fictions, the dollars they spend are real.
â€œWhenever you bring in a couple hundred people with disposable income to a city, it’s going to have an impact,â€ explained Tripp Vinson, â€œRed Dawnâ€ producer. â€œOur people go to restaurants, they go to bars, they go to grocery stores, they go to the mall on the weekends. They spend money and on top of that we get to employ some people.â€
50’s Cheetah Vision Films will be shooting in Detroit for “Things Fall Apart”
A study by Michigan State University’s Center for Economic Analysis endeavored to quantify the fiscal impact of such spending. It found that in 2008, 32 film productions were completed, generating more than $65 million in spending and creating more than 2,700 jobs for the state. Under certain circumstances, companies can maximize their personnel reimbursements by hiring local help. The next year finished productions topped out at 40. In, all, the Michigan Film Office estimates that the film industry has created 3,200 gigs since the incentives took effect in April 2008.
According to Chris Baum of Film Detroit, a division of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, there are more on the way. â€œThere will be so much film and TV activity this summer in the city,â€ he said. â€œWe’re aggressively going after more of this business and bringing these productions specifically to Detroit.â€
Several heavy hitters are already on tap: Donald Trump is casting a Detroit version of the Apprentice this summer; Richard Gere’s â€œThe Doubleâ€ just set up offices in a federal building downtown; 50 Cent’s company, Cheetah Vision Films is slated to shoot â€œThings Fall Apartâ€; MTV is casting for a Real World Detroit; and even jokesters â€œHarold and Kumar 3â€ will shoot in the city .
Detroiter Tiffany Lanier, locations coordinator for â€œReal Steelâ€, credits Michigan’s generous benefit for her ability to come back home. â€œMy first gig since the rebate was HBO’s â€œGifted Hands: The Ben Carson Storyâ€. I was a production coordinator and lived with my parents for free.â€ She maintains an apartment in LA, but the local work keeps coming. â€œI’ve worked on â€œHighland Parkâ€, â€œHawthorneâ€, HBO’s â€œHungâ€ and now on a Hugh Jackman film. The budgets keep getting bigger.â€
Andrea A., a Michigan native, works in the accounting department for Hyde Park’s â€œThe Doubleâ€. It’s a second career for her, having spent many years in the advertising world. â€œI’m getting a chance to start from the ground up and although sometimes not for a lot of money, I’m moving up the ladder fast and steady. The work is definitely here. We just left one movie to come to this one and they [the production company were ready to go.â€
This readiness is not just a state of mind, but a matter of landscape, according to French producer, Rafael Primorac, of â€œGame of Deathâ€. â€œDetroit is like a big back lot. Abandoned tracks and historic buildings, entire neighborhoods of houses and stores burnt out and trashedâ€¦ [The incentive is the reason that we’re here, but the city of Detroit is why we’ll be back.â€
“Game of Death movie with Wesley Snipes”Andrew B., Head of Sales at Maxsar Digital Studios in Detroit, credits Kwame Kilpatrick with putting Detroit back on the map. â€œI remember, before Kilpatrick, being in national newspapers, blogs and websites. It’s always been the number one city for drama. But after the publicity, Detroit became more recognizable.â€ Journalists covering the former mayor’s scandal, socialized in the same circles as members of the film industry. They filed stories about the rebate and state support soon followed.
Whether or not a production executive is willing to consider a new locale is not just a matter of saving money, but of assessing the strength of their connections to the area. Even in the Midwest, legendary for its lack of pretension, it can be difficult for individuals to penetrate industry circles and gain access to the wide range of professionals and services needed to mount a successful production.
Lulu Z., visual effects producer for â€œPiranha 3Dâ€, was attracted by the ease with which the state converted locations into work spaces. But even with such a large production requirement satisfied, there were challenges in the finer details. â€œEditors and artists who typically know the ins and outs of special effects know nothing about Michigan, where to eat, to live or even where to get technical support. They tend to resort back to their L.A. contacts for everything, even their opinions of Detroit,â€ she said.
So strong is the desire to work with known quantities and do things in a familiar way, DreamWorks considered relocating a large portion of their staff to film â€œReal Steelâ€ . They did not, but people like Lanier have helped to ease the transition. â€œRepresenting the city with pride and knowing where to find whatever it is that they need is always a powerful way to build longevity in this industry, and that’s certainly been a good thing for me.â€