After eight years, Michigan’s film tax incentives are coming to an end. It’s a government program that pushed Michigan to the top of a competitive and lucrative industry. In bringing Hollywood to the Motor City, Michigan’s crew base—old and new—had reason to stay, and perhaps more importantly, had unprecedented opportunities to develop and hone their artistic skills within their home state. And now, with the film industry being all but abandoned by the state, the future for film in Michigan looks bleak.
Many of those talented Michiganders will be forced to leave and call a new state home.
For a moment, set aside the politics; the debate behind the incentives that’s perpetually wedged by conveniently spun statistics.
Instead, hop on YouTube and check out the Batman v Superman trailer that debuted at this summer’s San Diego Comic-Con. Chances are, you’ve probably already seen it. In just three weeks, the trailer has close to 40 million views. It’s one of the most anticipated films in some time and it will surely be one of, if not the, most successful film of 2016. In the trailer, the Michigan locations are as vibrant as the comic book characters. Detroiters can watch with pride as the streets of Detroit are transformed into Gotham and Metropolis.
Or, you can head to Netflix, where the fourth installment of the Transformers series is now available for your viewing pleasure. Transformers: Age of Extinction was the highest-grossing movie, globally, in 2014. And for every dollar that it made, in every country that it was shown, audiences all over the world watched as Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci battled their way through Austin, Chicago, and Hong Kong, as Detroit locations and sets serve as their doubles.
But just as self-satisfying—and so often overlooked—as seeing Detroit on the big screen is watching these films knowing that everything from the costumes to the sets to the make-up to the camera work were created with the help of Michigan’s finest artists and craftsmen. Yes, it’s true that—especially on the bigger films—many of the department heads and decision-makers hail from L.A. or New York, but it’s Michigan construction workers who build the sets. Many of the costumers and set designers reside in the Mitten State. Harold and Kumar don’t experience a Christmas in July without the help of our finest special effects minds. It’s Michigan Teamsters who make sure these complex productions stay on the move. And it’s the camera loaders and assistants who help put some of the industry’s most-acclaimed cinematographers’ visions onto the screen.
It’s one thing to cap incentives. It’s one thing to debate how much, if any, the government should spend on subsidies. But by pulling the rug from under a once-thriving industry, Lansing has told its constituents how easily ready it is to lose a bevy of talented Michiganders.
Kale Davidoff got his start in the film industry because of the Michigan film incentives. At 17 years-old, he worked on ‘Youth in Revolt’ and has been working ever since on productions such as ‘LOL”, ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’, and ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’. He writes about film over at woodwordsdetroit.com.