Michigan film commissioner touts incentive program

Michigan’s status as flyover country is quickly changing. The state’s year-old production incentive program has lured Hollywood types, and its film commissions have risen to the task.

First stop is the Michigan Film Office, led by Janet Lockwood, which reviews scripts and approves incentive applications. “Michigan does not have to play Michigan,” advises Lockwood. “We play the world.”

She adds that two fulltime location scouts are on staff and available for up to two days of free location scouting anywhere in the state.

Another resource is Film Detroit, a unit of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. It covers Motown and surrounding counties, home to about two-thirds of the features produced in Michigan since the tax credits began.

“We’re known as the go-to people,” says Film Detroit senior VP Chris Baum. “Our only motivation is that productions have a great experience.”

Per Baum, producers are usually surprised by the area’s variety of locations, from inner city to upscale suburbs to rural farm areas.

In the city of Detroit, the mayor’s office expedites film permits and coordinates city services, explains Erica Hill, exec assistant to the mayor. While there are no city film permit fees, expenses are incurred if the police or fire departments are involved. Next up for the Motor City: MGM/UA’s “Red Dawn” remake.

Smaller communities like Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Traverse City (home to Michael Moore’s annual film festival), also attract location work.

“Generally speaking, the bulk of productions have been in the Detroit area but that will change as producers’ comfort level develops with local crews,” says Lockwood.

Rick Hert of the West Michigan Film Office — whose duties vary from arranging VIP pick-ups at the Grand Rapids airport to finding vacant industrial spaces suitable for interiors — says all the state film organizations cooperate to bring production to the state. “Genesis Code” is now lensing in Grand Rapids with “Tribes of October” coming up.

Another priority for all the film offices: infrastructure and an experienced crew. Several soundstages are in development. Among them: Raleigh Michigan Studios (see main story); Detroit’s 23rd Studios; and Unity Studios in the town of Allen Park. “The real key is that all will have a jobs-training component,” says Baum.

Also advancing studio and workforce development is Wayne County Film Commission director of film initiatives Mike Mosallam. Wayne County encompasses the city of Detroit and 42 other communities.

Mosallam aims for a 24-hour turnaround time when issuing permits for county buildings and properties. “We are a conduit between the private and public sector,” he says.

Michiganders generally welcome filmmaking. “I haven’t encountered any resistance at all,” says Chris O’ Hara, a Michigan-based DGA member and UPM on “Cherry,” who used campus locations at Kalamazoo’s Western Michigan University.

Dan Angel, exec producer of TNT’s Cuba Gooding Jr. starrer “Gifted Hands,” a biopic of Detroit native Dr. Ben Carson, shot in metro Detroit last fall. “The city and people are committed to this new enterprise and business,” Angel says.

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