Talking about the proposed New Michigan Film Incentives

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This new Film Incentives bill fixes nearly all of the mistakes that doomed the 2008 incentives to failure. It is a well-balanced proposal that offers plenty of funding to attract projects, while holding filmmakers accountable for bringing permanent work to Michigan, instead of allowing out-of-state corporations to come in, take the money, and leave. Its unambiguous goal is to establish a lasting set of incentives that create permanence for Michigan’s Film Industry program.
If there is a perceived shortcoming, it is that the bill doesn’t financially support micro-budget local projects (which is consistent with each of the other film incentive programs in other states.) To claim that smaller productions will not be boosted by this bill, however, ignores all the intangibles that come with having a vibrant film industry, paid for by the companies that actually have money to spend in state and grow the industry.
At the end of the day, somebody has to pay the bills. The number one priority of the Michigan Film Industry should be to convince the legislature the film incentive package is going to accomplish that goal. From the legislature’s perspective, the micro-budget projects offer nothing in return for their handouts. They don’t offer good-paying jobs. They don’t offer in-state spending. They don’t offer tax revenues. They don’t offer hotel rentals. They don’t offer a growing vendor database.
The question should be, how do we resolve all of that? How do we enable local productions to meet the 50 K/300 K threshold to prove investment to MI taxpayers and qualify for the new film incentives?
The logic behind supporting the little guys is understood. It’s agreed that it should be a priority for the Michigan Film Industry. It’s going to be a very hard sell however to convince the legislature that they should just hand money to one subset of Michigan workers without getting anything in return. The best end around is for Michigan film workers to support their own community by subsidizing those smaller projects communally. That approach puts you in the driver’s seat. The big projects pay the bills, you reap the benefits.

One idea that has been floated before, is applying a small surcharge to every hour Michigan film workers put in on studio projects (perhaps 0.5% of gross wages.) That “tax” could create a financial pool, paid for voluntarily by Michigan film workers, to support homegrown Michigan-based productions.

Here are the highlights of a conversation that occurred regarding the new film incentives:

Darren Brown   These bills never help the small-budget films. Sure it’s a start but why not start with us. We are leveraged for everything else.

Incentives are used to create good-paying jobs and foster spending in state to generate taxation in excess of what it costs to offer the incentives. What you are proposing does neither. It hands away freebies to local producers without offering anything of substance in return, either to the local film community or to the taxpayers who are subsidizing the incentives.

What does your plan do to generate money for the state to pay for the cost of the incentives? Without a good answer to that question, you’re just asking for someone to pay for the cost of your hobby. That sort of proposal will never fly with a state legislature, that is still gun shy about the massive financial inefficiency of the previous incentives. They’re not looking to hand out freebies. They are looking to establish a vibrant film program that will pay for itself.

The incentive package presented by the MI film industry leaders to the legislature has been in the works for years and is the result of thousands of hours of work and negotiations with key members of the legislature. It represents the consensus of the leaders of our industry.

That is the package that has been formed into a bill BY the legislature, and that is the package that will be voted on, most likely successfully, perhaps not this session, but it’s coming. That package currently has substantial support in both houses and is gaining momentum. There is still more work to be done, but this process of creating film incentives is an ongoing discussion and negotiation based on the consensus of the film industry’s leadership, and won’t be impacted by the idle ramblings of a self-serving wanna-be producer who doesn’t even pay the vast majority of his staff minimum wage. If you want a seat at the table, start proving yourself a professional, and then join some of the committees and put in the collaborative work.

Lori Adalpe Help me out here. I remember reading that the reason big money movies were bringing ALL their own workers back in 2008ish was that Michigan didn’t have any/enough qualified “below the line” workers. Georgia took that into consideration and developed classes to give their locals the skills they needed to compete for those jobs, making it a successful industry for Georgia. Will Michigan be doing the same?

I honestly can’t see talking about passing a bill that doesn’t include the time and space for this. I kept a close eye on Georgia while they were setting their programs up. They had two. One was 3 months and took you only so far and the other was another 3 or 4 months and got more in-depth providing even more job opportunities. There was one college and one special training center (I think) performing these classes. No one wanted to pay a bunch of locals who didn’t have the skills to do the jobs. That’s why they were bringing their own. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I will be watching.

“LA will bring their own workers. They will also be cast out of state.. “

LA paid competitive wages to department heads who had a lifetime of experience. Every experienced MI film community member was working in department head positions, non-stop. MI actors were given thousands of walk-on roles, with many obtaining feature roles and union membership.

The incentives failed because they were insanely wasteful. They created at least 10 times the amount of projects as Michigan had the ability to staff with department heads. Producers couldn’t find staff, stages, rental gear, etc. The upsides to all that wonton spending though opened a lot of doors to MI film workers.

To claim that LA hired only out-of-town crew is grossly irresponsible. LA created thousands of good-paying jobs for MI newbies with little or no experience, who never would have found work at any level in a larger film community like LA.

The 20-minute tier aspect paired with the promised budget absolutely cripples indie filmmaking. I could be wrong, I’m a new filmmaker. But the idea that you must spend a minimum of $300k for anything produced over 20 minutes seems debilitating. I think the incentives are geared more toward established studios getting a little break as opposed to nurturing the growth of indie film which is honestly all that’s still here. Maybe I’m wrong and someone can explain it to me.

How is this debilitating?

I agree. If the incentives generate good-paying jobs, there will be plenty of opportunities for newbies to learn the ropes, and low-budget filing makers will benefit handsomely from the added infrastructure, activity, and excitement. Film projects that don’t provide good-paying jobs are a bad investment by the state.

Michigan shouldn’t be subsidizing producers on ultra-low-budget projects to take advantage of the local workforce for their own personal enrichment. These incentives provide value for value: If you want the funds, provide employment and spend money in state. These incentives are not about enabling someone’s hobby, they are about creating a film industry through spending and employment initiatives.

John Forman, We need to pay close attention to any of the ‘public comments’ time when they are discussing this. But we also need to have concrete alternative solutions to offer and not just bitch. I’ve always thought Georgia offered a good model to follow. But, again, once anything is passed, it must stay in place and not be ‘revised’ every 6 months.

Georgia’s incentives have been revised numerous times over the past decade, to make them more efficient and to hold grant recipients more accountable. If you want a Georgia film tax incentive, you need to put down roots or offer something of value to the Georgia taxpayers.

Michigan’s previous incentives failed because the Michigan film industry refused to include accountability clauses, and the incentives became rife with waste and corruption.

About Kerry Sanders

Kerry Sanders has worked in a leadership role on 5 Academy award-nominated productions (for my department), 9 Tony award-nominated productions, and 23 Emmy award-nominated productions. He has worked on hundreds of national and regional commercials and has won countless local Emmys and Cleos. His design work has been seen in dozens of nationally recognized opera halls, dance spaces, theaters, museums, restaurants, advertising campaigns, interior designs, and the White House.

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