One upper-Midwestern state has gone to great lengths to render itself a desirable filmmaking location, and the entertainment industry is taking notice.
A legislative package recently passed in the Michigan legislature offers incentives designed to lure filmmakers to the Wolverine State. And with broad tax breaks, cash rebates, and a low-interest loan program among the new benefits for Michigan-based film productions offered by this sixteen-bill initiative, fledgling and established filmmakers alike may find Michigan's offer a difficult one to refuse. Already the bill has attracted notice in Variety, a popular film industry resource, and Michigan's native sons such as actor Jeff Daniels and author Mitch Albom traveled to Lansing to argue for the bill's passage.
But there's nothing new about the relationship between Michigan and film. Even before the Michigan legislature decided to offer a forty percent across-the-board refundable tax credit to filmmakers who spend over $50,000 making a movie in-state - plus further incentives for shooting in one of the 103 state-designated Core Communities, and other opportunities (a complete list and application package are available online from the Michigan Film Office) - the state had contributed a great deal to the world of contemporary film.
Most obviously, there's the long list of Michigan-born artists who have gone on to do significant work in film. As of 2008, that list includes the above-mentioned Daniels, who costarred in Dumb and Dumber, then returned to his native state to satirize Upper Peninsula mores in Escanaba In Da Moonlight. It also includes Sam Raimi, who revolutionized horror film with The Evil Dead (a student production made in the Michigan woods) before going on to popular success with A Simple Plan and the Spider-Man trilogy. Ann Arbor-born David Goyer helped revolutionize the superhero movie, contributing story work to Christopher Nolan's acclaimed Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Indie director Mike Binder set his film The Upside of Anger in his home state (though he didn't film there) before going on to direct the acclaimed 9/11 drama, Reign Over Me, and of course that's not even mentioning Flint, Michigan's liberal crusader Michael Moore, of the most commercially successful directors in the history of documentary films.
But it's as a setting that Michigan has perhaps truly shone. After all, it's the only state where you're never more than eighty-five miles from the beach - yet it offers craggy, mountainous locations, diverse and thriving cityscapes, sparse or heavily-wooded forests, enough flat farmland to simulate any state in the Midwest, and, of course, those sand dunes.
Does your script require an urban locale? Head to Detroit, where parts of Semi-Pro, Four Brothers, The Island and Transformers were shot, and which provided all the locations for 8 Mile. What about a gorgeous, cultured college town? Try Ann Arbor, backdrop for parts of the recent Jumper and the upcoming Youth In Revolt. The Michigan woods inspired Ernest Hemingway, and they also lend some of the inimitable creepy charm to Raimi's Evil Dead and Evil Dead II. A suburb of Detroit becomes a major supporting presence in John Cusack's classic black comedy Grosse Pointe Blank, and of course, we haven't even talked about the state's beaches, small towns or the craggy Porcupine Mountains, about the German-imitating tourist town Frankenmuth or the Scottish festival that every year puts tiny Alma on the map (and then takes it off again). Because of its geographical diversity, Michigan can stand in for nearly any state in the Union.
In fact, movies have been made in Michigan for almost as long as they've been made anywhere. Such early silent shorts as Baby Lund and Her Pets (1899) and Cadet Cavalry Charge (1900), starring the Michigan Military Academy's Cadet Batallion, were filmed in Detroit. (In those days, movies were typically under five minutes long, and tended to feature small snippets of real-life events so the titles of these movies pretty much summarize their contents.) In 1908, Michigan provided the backdrop for an eight-minute version of The Count of Monte Cristo, which seems to have been the first version of that oft-filmed play. This version is largely a highlights package of scenes from the then-popular stage play based on Dumas's novel but 1908 was also the year director D.W. Griffith began to work in film, and the medium's potential for telling a feature-length story would soon be tapped.
And with the birth of feature film comes a series of classics set and/or partially filmed in Michigan, such as the Upper Peninsula-based mystery Anatomy of a Murder, Eddie Murphy's breakthrough hit Beverly Hills Cop, the John Belushi-starring Continental Divide, and the teen cult classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Noted screenwriter Paul Schrader has drawn on his Grand Rapids and Detroit experiences for films such as Blue Collar and Hardcore (which parodies, and also flatters, the Dutch Reformed subculture of West Michigan), and RoboCop, The Untouchables, and Road to Perdition all use Michigan locations as well. And everyone who saw the classic Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour romance Somewhere In Time knows all about the potential of Mackinaw Island as a film setting.
Are Michigan officials ready to support the new influx of filmmakers they've courted? Certainly, the state already operates its own official Film Office, has an experienced tourism board, and in Checker Sedan offers filmmakers a transportation company with decades of experience assisting local and national productions with everything from taking dailies to the developer to picking up that special star or starlet from the Detroit Metro Airport.
Ann Knapp, Freelance Writer for Soave Enterprises, a diversified management and investment company founded by Detroit businessman Anthony Soave that provides strategic planning, financial and other management resources to its affiliated business ventures in the real estate, automotive retailing, beer distribution, scrap metal, industrial services and transportation industries, among others.Soave.com