Keep Tax Incentives for Film Industry

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    Two local businessmen believe it is in the state’s best interest to not only to maintain the 42 percent tax incentive for films to be made in Michigan, but that it should focus on making sure ancillary infrastructure is in place.

    According to reports, Gov. Granholm has proposed cutting the credit to 37 percent, and state Sen. Nancy Cassis (R- Novi) wants the cuts to be scaled back even more.

    Geoff George, whose family established Melody Farms in the 1950s, has been working in the film industry a little over a year on both independent films and bigger productions. He had been planning to move to Los Angeles, but was able to stay in Detroit and still get work in the industry.

    George mostly works as an assistant cameraman, but has also done everything from working as set production assistant to first assistant director.

    Larry Mongo’s businesses include the nightclub Café D’Mongo’s on Griswold. His family has had businesses in the city dating back to the 1930s.

    “Do you know what kind of a bad signal (reducing the incentives) sends?” George asked, saying Los Angeles is buzzing about shooting in Michigan.

    He added that the incentives have worked in attracting film companies, even though the state doesn’t have any related infrastructure in place.

    Plans are under way, however, to build film studios in both Pontiac and Allen Park.

    George said four movies are shooting in Michigan, that four were here last month and four will be here next month.

    He said reducing the incentive sends the wrong signal — that Michigan isn’t confident and is getting cold feet.

    “We should be embracing it,” he said. “We should be going full speed ahead. We should be building production studios.”

    The films that have shot or are shooting in Detroit include “The Irishman,” set in 1970s Cleveland; “Red Dawn,” a remake of the 1984 film (set in Seattle); and “Highland Park.”

    George said the last movie he worked on is shooting Detroit for New York City, and that Detroit is very adaptable for different locations.

    He also said Michigan’s four months of winter means a location up North could be made to look like the arctic tundra.

    “There’s a lot off opportunities there, but most importantly, it comes down to the dollars,” George said, adding that a producer will come to Michigan because of that bottom line.

    Mongo, who admitted to initial misunderstandings with film companies because he lacked insight in certain areas, said a lack of knowledge regarding what to do, what is right and what is wrong — especially in Detroit — could result in the city losing out.He also fears other states may give the film industry a better deal if Michigan cuts back the incentives and does not have infrastructures in place to provide ancillary services.

    One such service is catering. Mongo recently noticed that both “Red Dawn” and “Highland Park” had a Chicago-based caterer, and learned that there are only two catering companies in the state set up to handle the needs of a film crew. Both were booked.

    George said a film catering business is a full time job, and that at present there is nothing in place to educate a local caterer about how to break into that aspect of the business. He said the best way to get their foot in the door is to contact the Michigan Film Office to find out what films are coming to the state. After that, it is a matter of getting names and numbers and making calls.

    If he could talk to Gov. Granholm, George would thank her for the film incentives, since they gave him work, but would add that Michigan should also be attracting more attention of film companies all over the world. The state should also offer commercial production, provide equipment and truck and trailer rental, catering, prop houses services, set houses and other ancillary things.

    Granholm’s spokeswoman, Elizabeth Boyd, said Granholm wants to ensure Michigan continues to have the most robust incentive, and that establishing various infrastructures is part of the incentive, as well as critical to Granholm’s efforts to transform Michigan’s economy.

    Boyd also said not only does Granholm want people to make movies in Michigan, but wants the industry in the state as well, creating long-term job opportunities.

    Cassis could not be reached at press time, but according to Crain’s Detroit Business, she favors a proposal by Sen. Jud Gilbert (R-Algonac) to cap the incentives at $52 million each year.
    George reiterated that the film industry is an industry like any other, and involves all kinds of personnel and ancillary businesses.

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