How we all benefit from film incentives: An industry insider weighs in

(Editor's note: The film industry and the creative and technical support it receives in Detroit and across the state is a match made in heaven, says our guest contributor Dave Krieger, who makes strong arguments for keeping incentives in place and jobs in the state.)

In 2008, Michigan opened the door to the film industry. Producers, seeing an opportunity flooded the state over the next few years, increasing ten fold their movie making and investment in a new industry for Michigan.

The film industry is driven by two elements, money and location. Many states have a film program in place, Michigan's was the most generous and when enacted put a buzz into Hollywood. Michigan's topography has lakes the size of oceans, dunes, farms, hills, rural and suburban, and of course an incredibly visual number of cities. At this time, Michigan was bleeding workers, talent and tax revenue.

Over the past few years the state has seen an industry grow, hire, and succeed faster then any other in our state's history. The numbers speak for themselves. An Ernst and Young report, which independently tracked the money invested from film production, determined that for every dollar Michigan invests, six dollars are spent. Repeat that: For every dollar invested, it comes back sixfold!

Under Gov. Granholm and in the pages of Model D, there is an ongoing discussion of the creative class. How does Michigan retain them, train them and help them expand their dreams? This industry is all about creative class. Every one of the people employed in a production plays an active role in developing the final result. These people I work with are young, primarily; energized and excited about their opportunities in developing a new industry in this state.

I have personally brought over 30 people into the industry who were either laid off or were underemployed. These folks are now working high-paying jobs in a burgeoning industry. Creative young people now do not have to flee the state to work in jobs they were trained for. This atmosphere breeds other ideas and may set the foundation for other creative industries talked about on set or around the coffee shops and bars where creative types congregate.

This program is a game changer for Michigan. It has transformed overnight, opportunities for college graduates and young people who were fleeing in droves because of the lack of jobs, opportunities and creative work. No other industry can point to this instantaneous success.

The real world doesn't operate in a utopian creative environment and neither does Michigan. That is why the industry has also been incredibly beneficial to older industries and supportive of "mom and pop" stores also. Teamster drivers are re-employed as drivers for the film industry. I have met many former autoworkers that have been retrained to work as electricians, grips, drivers and locations assistants. Hotels are huge beneficiaries of the industry, especially downtown hotels. Sign companies, antique stores, restaurants, lumber yards, and countless other companies have received benefits from these productions.

Producers come in here with the intent of bringing a story and A-list actors. They want to hire local crew, they want to find experienced suppliers; bottom line, they want to spend their money in Michigan. They need to outfit each movie with the help of local merchants. There are many stories of productions helping local companies or bettering their bottom lines when no one else in this state was buying their products.

Over the past three years, many community colleges and our larger state colleges have begun film-training programs. The seeds were starting to germinate. When the rebates came to Michigan, there were only enough seasoned crew who actually knew how to make a movie that we could only handle 2-3 productions at most, about 300 people.

This has dramatically changed, our expertise and crew experience have grown along with the industry. There are laid off workers and kids out of college who have retrained themselves into invaluable crew members. This has meant that productions have decreased their need to bring in out of state crews, which means more jobs and more return for Michigan.

The whole idea was to formulate an incentive program, which would spawn a new industry in our state. They are called incentives for a reason, to build a new opportunity for Michigan residents. The pieces were beginning to fall into place.

Some examples:

• Producers and Hollywood took notice and brought productions to Michigan.

• Existing crews, who were working in the industry have been joined by thousands who never thought about a job in movies before and have seized the opportunity in a new career.

• Studios began investing in infrastructure, building new studios and post-production houses, animation studios, and 365 day a year production.

A recent study of the Pure Michigan ads which are so popular here have determined the ads are less beneficial then the film incentive. Long after a film has been made here people continue to talk about the Grand Hotel (Somewhere in Time) and the Marquette Courthouse (Anatomy of a Murder) where movies were set and filmed.  

In a $46 billion budget, $100 to $150 million is a small percentage of investment for so great a return.

Currently, there is no reason for Hollywood to consider Michigan without these rebates. We do not yet have in place enough to offer them the assurances they need to bring their production to a successful finish, cinematically or budget-wise.

The idea was to scale back the incentive program to a more realistic rebate once Michigan had other reasons for productions to consider Michigan, including seasoned and talented crews, studio and pre- and post-production infrastructure, and familiarity with the opportunities in Michigan.

Producers want to put their investors money into a sound plan. Success in Michigan for a few productions opens the doors to other investors. Hollywood is a small town and word of mouth goes a long way. Michigan was showing that it was open for business, could be supportive and offered assurances to producers that Michigan was a good investment.

Putting a cap on the rebates and not signing the contracts for movies currently looking to Michigan has crippled the program. Without leadership, the industry will turn away and may not come back. Producers are looking to Michigan to sort this out NOW. The rebates may need to be retooled and there is time for that. The governor has force fed this without looking at the long-term consequences.

Unfortunately, this could be the immediate result:

• Thousands of high paying jobs: gone.

• Millions of dollars in investment: wasted.

• A new industry in Michigan: banished.

We need to alert our elected state representatives, senators and the governor. Tell them you support the new film industry. It is not too late to motivate these leaders to action.

Read the eye-opening Ernst and Young report here. Join our Save the Michigan Film Incentive page on Facebook. With your help, we can keep something that clearly benefits creative life -- and job growth -- in Michigan going forward.

Dave Krieger has worked on almost 20 different local film productions as a scout, still photographer, and manager. He did fashion and other photographic work in New York for 12 years. Krieger was introduced to the film industry through his work at Model D and Metromode, where he was the original managing photographer for each publication.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.