Posted by: Kath Usitalo | February 21, 2011

Flak Follows Film Funding Failure

Without hefty tax incentives the future of Michigan's fledgling film industry is in reel trouble

Governor Rick Snyder is catching flak over his decision to leave the revolutionary Michigan Film Incentives on the cutting room floor.

Initiated in 2008 by his predecessor Jennifer Granholm (who wasted no time in putting the Great Lakes State in her rear view mirror to teach a couple of classes at the University of California, Berkeley) the tax credits can return up to 42% of approved production costs back to the producers—the largest such incentive in the nation.

The program has been controversial from the start, with both pro- and anti-film incentive camps churning out reports that justify their positions on the expenditures.

Out of Sight was shot in pre-film tax incentive Michigan

As a 34-page report from the state’s nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency brilliantly observes, “The analysis of film incentives is a complex process.”

The September 2010 paper concludes, “As is true for most tax incentives, the film incentive represent lost revenue and do not generate sufficient private sector activity to offset their costs completely…..whether the relationship of costs to benefits is acceptable is a decision for individual policy-makers.”

Well, the self-described Nerd in the state’s top policy-maker’s office has decided that Michigan’s budget can’t bear the out-of-pocket expense and wants to trim this and similar incentives to other industries. Governor Snyder plans to honor outstanding film commitments, and cap the 2012 film credit fund at $25 million—a sixth of the desired deal.

I support the concept of the incentives and understand that temporary movie and TV jobs are a breed apart from the traditional office and factory jobs Michigan is—or was—rooted in.

I also understand that the state has to cut the budget, and that might mean no butter on the popcorn.

What I don’t appreciate is Michigan native Mike Binder, a screenwriter, producer and director, bemoaning the loss of the monies—from his home base in L.A.

Hey Mike, come back to Michigan!

In a Detroit Free Press column the Californian writes about the positive impression his movie buddies have come away with after visiting and experiencing the state. “It’s been one long three-year positive open house. How could that not be a good thing?”

Because, Mr. Some Of My Best Memories Are Of Michigan, someone has to pay for the goodies served at the “open house.”

Hey Mike, here’s an idea: Move back to the state you supposedly love and you too can pay taxes to support your Hollywood friends’ Made-In-Michigan projects!

You could help local celebrity and film tax fan Mitch Albom who, in a recent Detroit Free Press column, worries that because of the proposed cut in payouts, “We look like fools.”

Please. There are reasons our beleaguered state might appear foolish, but I hardly think the size of the film financing fund ranks near the top of that list.

Mitch continues his moan about the blow to Michigan’s film industry stating, “in a single moment, Rick Snyder slashed its head off.”

Clint Eastwood made a movie---and production money back in his pocket---in Michigan

This slashing could not have come as a surprise to the writer. Last fall, in a pre-election column Mitch predicted, “If Rick Snyder is elected governor, we can say good-bye to (Michigan’s) movie and television business.”

Flash forward to his February meeting with the duly elected Governor to discuss film funds, after which Mitch claims, “I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.” Apparently he misunderstood the man with the calculator’s plans to limit—not eliminate—the size of the movie money pot.

In an effort to rally support for the tax incentives and encourage the citizenry to push Lansing to preserve the program, Mitch Albom, Mike Binder and others will speak at A Michigan Film Industry Town Meeting, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, February 24 at Maxsar Studios in Livonia. For details check out the Michigan Film Production website.

Another report on whether film incentives work .

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