Michigan rebate recruits film shoots

Louisiana incentives lure film, TV productions

The largest production rebate in the U.S. could result in nearly $300 million in revenue from film shoots this year. New studios are also in the works for Michigan, which is seeing a production boom in the wake of the rebate.

“There are quite a few films scheduled to shoot,” said Michigan Film Office director Janet Lockwood. “Right now we have three in production, three in prep, five finished although not yet gone, a dozen or more incoming.”

Lensing on “Whip It,” with Drew Barrymore directing Ellen Page, began in July; the Weinstein Co.’s “Youth in Revolt” recently completed principal shooting; and Lifetime’s “Prayers for Bobby,” with Sigourney Weaver, wrapped a few weeks ago. Production on an HBO pilot will begin soon, while ABC/Disney TV recently completed its pilot “Prince of Motor City,” a “Hamlet” set in the automotive world. Production on Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” continues, and indies “Red and Blue Marbles,” “The Detroit Job” and “Street Boss” have recently wrapped.

Projected Michigan revenue from the 47 productions approved so far is $288.4 million, while film revenue last year was $2.2 million. “Heck of a difference!” enthused Lockwood.

Michigan has one 15,000-square-foot studio, Grace & Wild, and several smaller facilities. The proposed Center City Studios (Daily Variety, June 24) has yet to break ground but is slated for a mid-2009 completion date. Joining it on the drawing board, Watermark Studios is skedded to break ground later this summer in Muskegon.

Watermark Studios, a $60 million project, is a venture that partners Moses Gross, president of Brooklyn-based ANM Group, with Andrew van den Houten, owner and president of Moderncine, a New York City-based production company. The studio will be a component of Watermark Center & Lofts, a 1 million-square-foot mixed-use residential center being developed by ANM Group.

Watermark developers hope to capitalize on Michigan’s 40% rebate by offering three major soundstages, the largest at 17,000 square feet and 52 feet to the grid, and fully equipped lighting and grip production vehicles to service multiple on-location productions.

Once completed, Watermark Studios will allow filmmakers to process and edit their film, transfer footage to HD and create and render visual effects in HD color correction suites. Also to be available: 3-D animation, tape-to-film transfers and 3-D film processing, along with dialogue replacement, foley, sound design and sound mixing on THX- and Dolby-certified stages. Screening rooms and theaters are also planned.

Financial consulting, bridge loans for film and television projects, casting, location scouting and distribution services complete the one-stop shop.

Adding to Michigan’s film roster, Moderncine’s van den Houten is currently directing “Offspring,” which is lensing in and around the Muskegon area as well as on-site at Watermark Center & Lofts. Pic is based on the novel by Jack Ketchum, who also wrote the screenplay.

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Louisiana incentives and a growing vendor and crew base continue to strengthen the state’s film and TV production.

Shreveport-Bossier City production numbers boosted the city’s ranking to No. 3 on MovieMaker magazine’s 2008 edition of its “10 Best American Cities to Live, Work and Make Movies” list. The 24 film/TV productions for 2007, which included feature pics “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” “Cleaner,” “The Great Debaters,” “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins” and TV pilots “True Blood” and “Cheerleader Camp,” generated $182 million for the city and northwest Louisiana, creating 2,000 crew positions and 557 production days.

Thus far, 2008 has launched 18 projects, with budgets totaling $209 million, including “Soul Men,” the remake of 1956’s “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” and Oliver Stone’s “W.”

“We have more (film/TV projects) coming in for the fall and winter, and we should have another great year,” said Arlena Acree, director of film, media and entertainment, Office of the Mayor. “We also have 300-400 crew that live here now.”

Adding to its production allure, Shreveport has witnessed the growth of the city’s local vendors and welcomed new ones such as Paskal Lighting, Cinelease and Panavision.

Complementing the city’s five existing studios, Nu Image/Millennium Films broke ground in April on its new studio. Construction will begin with 6.7 acres and eventually expand to a 20-acre full-service facility with two soundstages, production offices, hair and makeup room, mill space, full-service kitchen/dining and prop house.

Similarly, New Orleans hosted 14 major productions in 2007 that included 20th Century Fox TV series “K-Ville” and Disney’s “Imagination Movers” and feature pics “Meet the Spartans” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

The city’s 2008 tally to date is 13 productions, including the John C. Reilly-Salma Hayek starrer “Cirque du Freak”; Jim Carrey-Ewan McGregor starrer “I Love You Phillip Morris” (which also shot a few days in Shreveport’s wave pool); Tyler Perry’s Kathy Bates, Alfre Woodard feature “The Family That Preys”; the WWE’s John Cena pic “12 Rounds”; and “Bad Lieutenant,” with Eva Mendes, Nicolas Cage and Val Kilmer.

Production revenue continues to climb, registering $250 million, with local spend an estimated $185 million.

“In addition to our bustling feature film industry, New Orleans sees a tremendous amount of episodic television work,” said Jennifer Day, director, Mayor’s Office of Film and Video for the City of New Orleans. “New Orleans’ status as a destination city, world-renowned for its cuisine, architecture and arts scene continuously draws networks such as BET, VH1, the Travel Channel and the History Channel to the Crescent City.”

Day also Filmneworleans.org as the city’s new production website.