Rob Schneider Tells Detroit: 'You Can Do It'

Rob Schneider -- star of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigilo and The Hot Chick -- could be the guy who ushers in a new economy in Detroit and brings more prominence to the city. Schneider, a the Saturday Night Live alum and buddy of Adam Sandler, could be that guy.

Don't laugh. He may. Well, at the very least, the industry he represents could. And thanks in no small part to our state's generous financial incentives, for the last two weeks our hero has been on Monroe Street in Greektown, filming a movie called "American Virgin" (early Variety buzz had it named The Virgin on Bourbon Street).

So what if it's not Gran Torino, filmed here earlier this year by Clint Eastwood and already garnering Academy Award buzz for the veteran actor/director. No one is talking Oscars for "American Virgin."

Maybe it's not high art, but when has that been a requirement for a movie? Plus, Schneider and his Hollywood crew are staying in Detroit hotels, eating at restaurants, drinking at bars and bringing a level of excitement and hope (not to mention a flow of cash) that Detroit hasn't felt since Model Ts started bumping away from the Piquette plant over 100 years ago.

But if the tax incentives are luring Hollywood here, the city and state seem to be winning them over.

"I love it here," Rob Schneider says in between takes on the Greektown set. "Detroit is such a breath of fresh air."

They've come for the bargains, but they're staying -- and talking of returning -- for the authenticity, opportunity, attitude and excitement.

"Obviously the tax incentives are the best around," says John Schneider, executive producer of the Virgin movie and the spitting image of his brother Rob, albeit a bit older. "But you can't get better than this," he adds, spreading his arms to the scene on Monroe Street in front of him. "Detroit is a real city, a real place. It's not a Warner Brothers studio."

Hooray for the Motor City

Rob Schneider's goal may be to gross you out and make you laugh, but he's also putting the spotlight on Detroit.

In a sense, it's fitting to speak about cars and film in the same sentence when talking about Detroit. Both industries are defining, and possess the ability to create or recreate a city. Talk to the crews and production team, and it feels like Detroit truly could be the Hollywood of the Midwest.

"This is a serious business, and it will continue to be a serious business for Michigan," John Schneider says. "There are a lot of Michigan workers without work, and the film industry can be a solution."

In addition to Schneider's flick and Eastwood's "Gran Torino," Drew Barrymore's "Whip It!" filmed in Hamtramck and Eastern Market. Kim Cattrall was in town filming a movie called "Miss January." Sigourney Weaver held forth in Royal Oak for a made-for-TV movie. Now Rosie O'Donnell is scouting around town.

Michigan, of course, isn't the first state to offer such incentives. In fact, it was Canada who started the filming tax break wave. Other states, such as Louisiana and New York, have tax incentives, too, but none of them go as deep as Michigan's breaks.

"You're building an industry here in Detroit," says Jason Price, another producer of the film. "(The film industry) is a change for people but with more pictures there will be more crew and more training and more jobs. They'll invest in equipment for the industry, they'll do this or that, and the business will thrive. This will be great for Michigan's economy."

Quiet on the set

"Virgin" is filming on the fourth floor of the Atheneum Hotel. It's a Monday night, after dinner, and the cameras are rolling -- they've been rolling for over a week now. The hallways are packed with equipment and people. It's hot and bright and quiet.

One of the actresses, Jenna Dewan (you may know from the 2006 dance movie "Step Up," or maybe not), is holding a champagne bottle. Her hair is disheveled. She's supposed to be drunk. She's exchanging dialogue with Rob Schneider.

"Where's room 393?" she asks. "CUT!" The director says, "Let's go again." And they go again, and again, and again. That's movie making. For every five minutes you watch, they acted for 20. At least.

In between takes, Rob Schneider dishes on his Detroit experience. "Obviously the tax rebates are great. But what sticks out to me is the people. The people here couldn't be harder workers or better to work with."

Not a bad review, especially considering the big-time film industry, post-incentive, is barely a year old here in Michigan. One issue that's popped up is that the state didn't really have the depth of crews to deal with the number projects that have been planned here.

Virgin's line producer Charlie Berg says that in California the crews are seven deep. Here there may be one or two, making for not much bidding, which is good for the crew. They stand to make money and always have work, Berg says. "For my pocketbook, however, not so good." He suspects that will change, fast.

"In five, six years, if this keeps up, you'll see a rejuvenation of the city," Berg says. He's drinking a Red Bull, talking fast. "Mark my words, this industry will rejuvenate Detroit. It doesn't have to be about GM. That's in the past. It can be about the movies. You have everything, land, the river, and buildings; there is no reason for the city to not be successful."

And then he says it, so fitting coming from a Hollywood guy, "It really is an 'if you build it, they will come' scenario."

He sips his Red Bull and looks around. "It's colder here than in California," he says, blowing into his fist. "But you know what, I'd film another film here."

Rob Schneider, standing in the Atheneum surrounded by cameras, crews and extras, is in agreement.

"I'm definitely going to try and do another movie here," the comedian says. "There is a movie I'm thinking about called the 'Last Man on Earth,' and I would love to bring it back to Detroit. The city has accepted us with open arms."

Schneider and the producers of the film all echo the same sentiment: They are impressed with the enthusiasm of the crew and the willingness to learn and work hard.

"In L.A. they don't seem to care or want to learn of have an interest," Schneider says. "So, it's not very interesting for me. To be interested is to be interesting, you know. The people here are so enthusiastic and seem happy to be here, working, all day. We want to keep workers like this around. We want to hire as much local talent as we can – you Detroiters have a lot of heart."

Terry Parris Jr. writes for Model D. Send feedback to [email protected].

Signup for Email Alerts