V V V V
XThe Michigan Daly Wednesday, JanuaryI2009
Wensa auary 14, 2009 - The MichiganDay
Film students, consider staying put. In-state students, rejoice in something positive about Michigan's economy. Enacted in April,
the Michigan Motion Picture Incentive Program has filmmakers big and small shooting in Ann Arbor and other cities.
BY COURTNEY RATKOWIAK
t is a nondescript office building, flanked by
construction equipment on a side street in
downtown Ann Arbor. The first floor direc-
tory mainly lists doctor's offices, and only
after climbing a set of bland, white stairs
does it start to look like you might be in the right
place. The second floor is just a long hallway, with
temporary, printer-paper signs noting crew and
director's offices taped near the outside of each
But the company that has taken over the sec-
ond floor of that build i, wilie pumping mil-
lions of dollars into the state and local economy
over the next few months. Its payroll includes a
two-time Academy Award winner. And just one
year ago, it had no intention of bringing its busi-
ness to Michigan.
The movie "Betty Anne Waters," starring
Hilary Swank, will start itsseven-week shoot in
Ann Arbor on Feb. 17, though its production crew
has beeninthe areasince November and willlikely
stay until the end of April. The film is one of many
that have flooded into the area in recent months,
thanks to the passage of the Michigan Motion Pic-
ture Incentive Program. And with much of Michi-
gan's economy continuing to crumble, the face of
the state's quickly growing film industry may start
to look less like short-term, converted offices and
more like a Midwestern Tinseltown.
SAM WOLSO aiDry The Michigan Motion Picture Incentive Pro-
gram took effect in April after passing unani-
mously in the House of Representatives and 37-1 in
the Senate. It states that a film that spends at least
$50,000 in the state can receive up to a 40 percent
0e in 0 tax credit on Michigan cast, crew and production
expenditures (with the exception of out-of-state
crew members) and an extra two percent rebate
G anRps if the film is set in one of 103 "core communities,"
including Ann Arbor. The program is one of the
most aggressive in the country to date.
With the auto industry floundering and an
estimated $1.5 billion budget deficit heading
into the new year, Michigan may not seem in the
position to offer up to a 42 percent tax rebate to
film companies that won't be permanently fun-
neling revenue into the state. But proponents
of the program say it's a way for Michigan to
quickly diversify its economy in a time when
revitalization is badly needed.
Sred ovhed According to Jim Burnstein, vice-chairman of
the Michigan Film Office Advisory Council, film
revenue was about $4 million in Michigan the
year before the incentive was passed.
In just nine months after the initiative was
enacted, the state earned an estimated $100 mil-
lion in production revenue, Michigan Film Office
CEO Tony Wenson said.
"The film business is one that you can see
immediate results - and we are," Burnstein said..
"Since the law was passed in April, it's the equiva-
lent from going from 0 to 100 miles an hour."
After the initiative passed, Michigan played
M OFFICE, IMDB.COM host to movies ranging from big-name blockbust-
ers like Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino" to indie
films like "Cherry," filmed on the Kalamazoo Col-
lege campus. And the names of actors and actress-
es who filmed in Michigan read like a guest list at
an A-list Hollywood soiree.
Diane Lane. Drew Barrymore. Christina Ricci.
Adrien Brody. Kim Cattrall. Sean Astin.
But Michigan isn't alone in luringstars and film
equipment away from Los Angeles. Michigan's ini-
tiative followed similar plans in states like Louisi-
ana and New Mexico, which both have 25 percent
tax credit programs and are considered to have
two of the country's most successful fledgling film
industries. Louisiana served as the bacl drop for
80 films in 2008.
Before tax credit programs were implemented,
the high cost of filming made it difficult for inde-
pendent producers to shoot in the United States.
Producer Philippe Martinez said he often
filmed in Canada and Eastern Europe because of
.the lower cost of production. But Martinez set up
shop in Grand Rapids from August to October to
shoot the $4.8 million thriller "The Steam Experi-
ment," a story about a scientist (Val Kilmer, "Alex-
ander") who takes six people hostage in a steam
room until the local newspaper agrees to print his
global warming theory.
Now, with multiple states offering tax rebates,
there are more opportunities to shoot in the Unit-
ed States but the difference between states' rebate
Olercentages is minimal when deciding on a loca-
tion, Martinez said.
"It's not like, 'How much would I save com-
pared to another state?' "he said. "It's more like
you don't even come to the state, as an indepen-
dent producer, shooting somewhere where there's
no tax breaks."
Even with bigger-budget and less price-sen-
sitive movies, choosing a state in which to film
requires a mixture of what makes the most eco-
.nomic and creative sense. Producer David Permut
had two films slated for production in early 2008
- the $60 million film "Youth in Revolt," starring
Michael Cera ("Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist"),
and "Prayers for Bobby," a Lifetime movie starring
Sigourney Weaver ("WALL-E"). Both films were
set in northern California, but Permut had plans
in early 2008 to shoot "Youth in Revolt" in Oregon
and "Prayers for Bobby" in Alberta, Canada.
As soon as the Michigan film incentive
passed, though, Permut moved both his films to
Michigan - and part of the "Youth in Revolt"
shoot to Ann Arbor.
The potential future economic impact of the
"Betty Anne Waters" crew in Ann Arbor was first
seen on a smaller scale July 28-31, when "Youth in
Revolt" was brought downtown for four days of
filming. The entire film was shot in Michigan, but
mainly in the Royal Oak and Traverse City areas.
Based off the C.D. Payne book of the same name,
"Youth in Revolt" chronicles a sex-obsessed teen-
ager's quest to lose his virginity to a girl he meets
A scaled-down, special effects-heavy crew
set up at the corner of Liberty Street and Ashley
Street to shoot the movie's third act. The action
sequence included a vintage Lincoln careening
down a hill and crashing into the Obama cam-
paign's county headquarters, which was con- ture in the city was similar to New England's.
verted into a hot dog stand named Too Frank When filming starts in February, only about 20
Sausages during the shoot. percent of the film will be shot on campus, he said,
"Ann Arbor saved us on this film, because quite with much of the movie set in a private home. He
honestly, one of our biggest challenges was to find declined to name specific University or off-cam-
an area geographically that we could create that pus shooting locations.
stunt," Permut said. "We actually even talked "We're not seeing that much exterior scenes
about shooting in a landfill at one point, trying to and streets," Sugerman said. "A large portion is in
basically build our own mountain, which would interiors. And the days we are shooting exteriors,
have been really problematic. So believe me, Ann it will be cold, so I don't think it will be that much
Arbor became very meaningful for us." fun to watch for long hours."
Even in just a few days of shooting, Ann Arbor Sugerman said about 60 percent of the "Betty
businesses benefited. Kay Seaser, account manag- Anne Waters" crew will be brought in from out of
er for the Ann Arbor Tourist Bureau, said Down- state, especially for technical positions. The movie
town Home and Garden sold sun hats and patio plans to hire local extras and possibly actors for
umbrellas during the shoot, and Sign-o-Rama some of the film's smaller roles.
printed signs for parking and set operations.
Cast and crew frequented restaurantslike Fleet-
wood Diner, Sweetwger's and Conor O'Neill's. The biggest piece of the Ann Arbor economy
"Typically, they would have caterers on site," isn't local businesses - it's the University. And
Seaser said. "But the second unit location manager with the incentive, some students are finding
who was here a month in advance, she said, '(Ann opportunities to become a part of the state's fledg-
Arbor has) such great restaurants here - instead ling movie industry.
of bringing catering to (the cast and crew) every Burnstein, who also heads the screenwriting
day, we're going to give them a per diem and let program at the University, said this is the first
them eat in the local restaurants."' year that a significant number of Michigan film
Fleetwood Diner owner Andy Demiri estimat- students are staying in the state after graduation
ed an increase in sales of at least 25 percent while instead of immediately leaving for Los Angeles to
the film crew worked around the corner - alot of find work.
take-out was ordered and one night, Michael Cera One recent graduate landed his first out-of-col-
even made a midnight stop. lege job when Burnstein referred him to "Youth in
A construction crew came to town to build the Revolt" director Miguel Arteta, who was looking
"Too Frank Sausages" fagade for the fiery crash to hire a student as his assistant while he and Cera
scene at least two weeks before the actual shoot. made changes to the script.
Demiri said by the end of the movie's time in Ann "After a few days, (the student) says-to Miguel,
Arbor, members of that crew were loyal custom- 'Is it okay if I say something? I sort of got an
ers, eating at his diner once or twice a day. idea,' " Burnstein said. "So he tells him, and it's
After "Youth in Revolt" left the city, others fol- great. It's in the script. This kid who's three days
lowed. Part of Drew Barrymore's roller derby film out of school has now played a vital role in the end
"Whip It!" was filmed in Ypsilanti in late August. of the production."
The cast members made Ann Arbor club Necto For other students in the University's Screen
their late-night destination one Friday. Necto Arts and Cultures program, the rebate money has
owner Scot Greig said the visit from Barrymore allowed them a larger budget to make indepen-
and about 20 other people was unexpected, and dent films. This summer, LSA senior Eddie Rubin
though he gave the group the club's VIP room, and University alum Debashis Mazumder co-
they preferred to walk around the club and mingle produced the film "Art House," about a co-op of
with the crowd. art students who risk getting evicted if they don't
In mid-November, when an existing metro prove they can be productive artists.
Detroit location fell through for the raunchy Rob "Art House" was shot entirely in Ann Arbor,
Schneider comedy "Virgin on Bourbon Street," mainly at the Black Elk Co-Op House near the cor-
the crew used Ingalls Mall on short notice. ner of Washtenaw Avenue and Hill Street and at
The arrival of the "Betty Anne Waters" cast and the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity on Oxford Street.
crew marks the firstilong-term, major project to be Although the majority of the actors and crew
filmed in the city - and the first time residents and came from in state, the film hired the lead actors,
businesses in Ann Arbor can truly evaluate the production designer and sound crew from out-
extended effects of the tax incentive program. side of Michigan. Rubin said that if not for the tax
The movie, based off a true story, follows a incentive, the film wouldn't have had the money to
woman's attempts to prove the innocence of approach talent like Iggy Pop (from Iggy Pop and
her brother, who was convicted of a murder he the Stooges) or Tim Brennen ("Hancock"), who
didn't commit. She puts herself through law both had sizable roles in the film.
school and exhausts his appeals in hopes of A Farmington Hills native, Rubin said he plans
proving him innocent. to stay in Michigan after graduation to continue
"Betty Anne Waters" will be set in Massachu- his film work. Having founded the production
setts, and producer Andrew Sugerman said he con- company Deep Blue Pictures with University
sidered filming in both Massachusetts and Rhode alum Danny Mooney in 2007, Rubin said he has
Island before deciding on Ann Arbor. Though the recently been talking with several out-of-state
primary reason for shooting in Michigan was the producers, directors and investors to fund scripts
financial incentive, Sugerman said he specifically and get films into production.
found Ann Arbor attractive because the architec- See FILM INDUSTRY, Page 8B
LSA senior Eddie Rubin has already benefited from the state tax credit program, using the rebate for his film "Art House."