For most people, a trip back home is fun and relaxing, even nostalgic, but for Hopwood Depree, it was a life- and career-changing moment.
“It was about two years ago when I took this weekend trip back home to Michigan and made the decision to come back home,” Depree says. “All of the foreclosure signs across the street and friends that had lost their jobs made me want to think of a way to help them out.”
Depree, 38, who grew up in the small town of Holland, Mich., had been living in Los Angeles pursuing filmmaking when he came up with an idea that could help his career and those affected by these tough times in Michigan as well.
He decided to convert an old, abandoned whip-cream factory in his hometown into several soundstages and then hire unemployed auto and manufacturing workers as crew members.
“Over the past couple years, I really began to lobby as a citizen to get the grants and funds we needed to get this plan off the ground,” Depree says. “Once the money was there, we began buying up areas in the town that were a little challenged and then approached the right people about the factory and got the right paperwork together to get that wrapped up.”
Michigan now has begun to attract filmmakers such as Michael Bay, who shot parts of “The Island” and “Transformers” there.
“Michigan has such a diverse landscape that you can use it for almost any type of setting,” Depree says. “Besides the look of the state, you are also getting people with a really strong work ethic and who really love the film business.”
With the factory now Tic Tock Studios, Depree began to develop a training program to get the new crew members ready for work.
When it came time to find the right people to train, Depree says, it was a no-brainer to get local workers, who had been laid off recently, instead of looking at film students from colleges around the area.
“We are about training below-the-line guys, like stagehands or tech people, where the college kids are trained more for above-the-line like a director or actor,” he says. “It felt good to put people to work who had lost hope.”