Monday, August 4, 2008
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Big films get big tax breaks
available to students
By BRANDON CONRADIS
When the summer began, LSA
senior Brendt Rioux didn't expect
to work on a film set, let alone work
alongside an established storyboard
artist. But a little more than a month
ago, Rioux, who is concentrating in
Screen Arts & Cultures, received an
e-mail offering a student internship
on the set of "Whip It," a new Drew
Barrymore filmbeing shotin Michi-
gan. His interest piqued, Rioux sent
in an application.
He got a call offering him the
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internship almost immediately. The
job had a perk he wasn't expecting.
"As it turned out, the storyboard-
ist (J. Todd Anderson) had done
almost all of the Coen Brothers'
movies," he said, referring to the
duo's spate of Oscar-winning films
like "Fargo" (1995) and "No Country
for Old Men" (2007).
Like many young filmmak-
ers, Rioux is just happy to get
the experience. There are many
opportunities for University stu-
dents to work on smallei, inde-
pendent film sets in the area, but
major Hollywood productions
have always been harder to come
by in Michigan.
This summer has seen a couple
of higher budgeted films make
their way to the state, including
"Whip It" and "Youth in Revolt."
And University students like
Rioux are taking advantage of the
opportunities they offer.
The main reason for this
onslaught of Hollywood film
productions in the area is a tax
incentive recently adopted by
the state. In an effort to boost
the state's recessed economy, the
state now offers a 40-percent tax
break to productions with pro-
posed budgets of at least $50,000.
If the movies are shot in one of
103 "core communities," an addi-
tional 2-percent break is offered.
Ann Arbor and Detroit are both
According to Janet Lockwood,
director of the Michigan Film
office, which oversees all film
productions in the state, the tax
break is quite inviting.
"Last year I saw maybe six
scripts," she said. "This year I
saw over a hundred."
And she's not the only one who
has noticed. Mary Lou Chlipala,
the program coordinator for the
University's Screen Arts & Cul-
tures Department, is enthusias-
tic about the new opportunities
available for students.
"We would never have all this
going on inthe summer," she said,
when asked about how the tax
break has affected the opportu-
nities available to Screen Arts &
Cultures students. "I'm assuming
this is goingto stay lively."
According to Chlipala, there
are about 10 University students
currently working on major film
productions in the area. One of
them, LSA alum Mark Zakaliak,
who graduated in April, began
as a director's assistant on the
film "Youth in Revolt." He was then
given a job in office production.
Zakaliak, who started his college
career intending to go to medical
school, changed his focus when he
realized that his true interests lay in
filmmaking. A sub-concentrator in
the University's screenwriting pro-
gram, Zakaliak was recommended
to the makers of "Youth in Revolt"
by his professor, accomplished Hol-
lywood screenwriter Jim Burn-
"I love it," Zakaliak said of his
experiences on the set. "To actu-
ally be working in film, and to feel
that the decision I made (switching
concentrations) was right - it feels
For students like Zakaliak, one
of the main benefits of working on a
major film set is the experience they
take away from the shoot - experi-
ences unavailable inthe classroom.
"The foundations are there for
the production classes (the Uni-
versity offers)," Zakaliak said. "But
there's no other way to learnthan by
And while he admits that it's
stressful work, he also said that his
experience on "Youth in Revolt"
has opened the doors for more film
work - he already has an interview
for a production position on another
In fact, Screen Arts & Cultures
students said another major benefit
of the tax incentive is that it allows
them to pursue filmmaking careers
within the state of Michigan, as
opposed to relocating to Los Ange-
les or New York City.
Zakaliak, who always planned on
moving out to California, remains
open to the idea of staying in Michi-
"If things are happening here, it
would be stupid for me to just getup
and leave," he said.
Chlipala, who coordinates stu-
dent internships, agreed, "If more
films are made here it mightbe areal
option for some of them (to stay)."
Though he said that, because
of his interest in animation, there
aren't as many appealing career
options in the state, Rioux is still
aware of the growing possibilities
"With all these opportunities
coming to Michigan," he said, "it's
possible to be a big fish in a small
As University students likeRioux
and Zalkiak have discovered, a
career in Hollywood isn't so far
away from home after all.
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