Michigan: Hollywood of the Midwest?

*By Liz Parker (Yes/No Films) and Elyssa Pearlstein (A2-4U)

Liz Parker with Courteney Cox-Arquette, in Ann Arbor

Scene from "Youth in Revolt"
shot in Ann Arbor, summer '08
A few weeks ago, I was visiting with some friends in Ann Arbor and we decided to go to The Black Pearl on Main Street. Once seated, one of my friends (co-writer of this article, actually) asked me if the woman seated two bar stools down from us looked like Courteney Cox Arquette. I turned to look and was stunned – if it wasn’t Cox Arquette, it was definitely a really close look-alike. I thought that there was a good chance that it would be her since I knew that the movie she was starring in, “Scream 4,” had recently been filming in Ann Arbor. Our other friend thought that it wasn’t her; however, when fans started inching closer to her with cameras in tow, we knew that it was. Courtney graciously took pictures with us, and we left The Black Pearl a little bit starstruck.

The question, then, is this – is Michigan becoming the “new Hollywood”? Fellow blogger Jackie at freeismylife.com posed this question in a blog post of hers, and I have to slightly agree with it.

The movie “Flipped,” scheduled for release on August 6th, was partially filmed in Ann Arbor, and ever since last year, a slew of movies have been filming there, including “Betty Ann Waters” (newly re-titled “Conviction”), with Hilary Swank; “Trust,” filmed on the University of Michigan’s North Campus, with David Schwimmer; and, most recently, “Scream 4.” “Conviction” actually put out a call for extras in the area during my spring break in 2009, but alas, I already had a trip with friends scheduled and was unable to participate. Last year, the movie “Whip It” was filmed partially in Ypsilanti, and co-stars Drew Barrymore and Ellen Page were spotted hanging out at a bar in downtown Ypsi. In addition, the movie “The Double” has been filming in Detroit and surrounding areas, which is part of the reason that Martin Sheen was in town and able to do a Q&A session with us after the recent screening of “The Way” in Bloomfield Hills. Richard Gere, the lead actor in “The Double,” was spotted at the Starbucks on Main St. in Ann Arbor as well (I wouldn’t have minded running in to him!), and Cox Arquette’s husband, David Arquette, has been tweeting about Michigan’s glorious sunsets (twitter.com/davidarquette), as apparently him and his wife are renting a condo in Ann Arbor for the duration of the filming of “Scream 4.”

Film companies such as the Weinstein Company (“Scream 4”) have chosen a variety of locations throughout Michigan to yell, “Action!”. “Ann Arbor has been the surprise discovery,” remarks Ken Droz, Michigan Film Office spokesman. Tree Town’s art galleries, scenic banks of the Huron River, night life, and cultural diversity are amongst merely a few of its appetizing aspects.

What propagates this sudden local film boom? Nothing other than the Michigan Film Incentive (MFI,) which provides a large tax credit (up to 42% of the money a film company spends on a production) to film making companies that choose to set up and run shop in “the mitten state.”

A film company’s expenditure must somehow benefit Michigan’s economy in order to qualify for the financial credit. Buildings and land used for on-location filming, in addition to equipment and services, must all be rented, purchased, and provided in-state. Additionally, the MFI mandates a film corporation build a permanent office or studio that hires at least one permanent employee in Michigan. Even if a film company from Hollywood, for instance, opens headquarters in Michigan, it would give local tradespeople revenue under the MFI’s conditions.

“When you get 380 million dollars injected into the economy, you’ll see results,” proclaims Droz. On top of movie makers’ local economic stimulation in regards to actual filming and production, actors and crew members alike make expendable purchases ranging from hotel rooms and clothing to fine restaurant dining. Ann Arbor area hotels sold 19,000 room nights to film company related clients in 2009 according to AnnArbor.com. Amongst these spenders are undoubtedly some wealthy and handsomely-tipping production personnel.

Who’d have thought that a movement for increased film production could also boost workers in other fields such as cosmetology and culinary arts? After all, movie actors don’t magically become mythically beautiful. Someone has to employ expertise in concealing their dark circles and crows feet from late nights of filming and after-partying, and they also need to eat, no matter how skinny some of them may appear. Chow Catering of Detroit, which provides all the meals for the film crew of “A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas” is one such benefiting company, as read in The Detroit Free Press.

The think tanks of video game creation ––also a promotional facet of the MFI–- are just barely fired up in state and will likely also spark an influx of “jobs, spawning jobs, spawning jobs,” Droz exclaims. “Once we get new media in place - digital and games - it could be an explosion!”

Upgraded film and computer programs at colleges and other educational institutions naturally tag along with the MFI. “[There is] a large galvanization and effort of university communities amping up their programs for current and future students,” proclaims Droz. Local educational circles have already begun to refurbish departments of film production along with video game design.

The Michigan Creative Film Alliance between Wayne State University, the University of Michigan, and Michigan State University is just one new collaboration with a mission of sustainable local film production.

A recent result of the MFI is the increasing amount of students and workers seeking jobs in and remaining within Michigan. “People that were going to leave aren’t,” says Droz, regarding the MFI’s allure for in-state college students to seek in-state jobs. I know that as a relatively recent University of Michigan grad with a BA, I feel ever-so-slightly more secure about having remained in Michigan.

Michigan being the new “Hollywood,” I’ll believe it when I see – oh, wait, is that Drew Barrymore? Walking up the street with an ice cream cone?

Gotta go.

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