Michigan universities lead students into local film careers

Ann Arbor, MI –

Hollywood has taken advantage of the Michigan Film Tax Incentive and is producing more movies than ever in thes state. A new collaboration between Michigan's largest universities is helping keep up with a growing demand for skilled movie makers.


Tucked back in the abandoned parking lot of the old Pfizer research facility in Ann Arbor is a team of students wrapping up their final week of filming a 30 minute movie called Appleville.

Screen writer Erin Whitmore says the movie is a take-off of the 1994 Keanu Reeves movie Speed, "Two brothers attempt to rob and hijack a bus full of retirees out for a mall opening."

Whitmore recently graduated from the screenwriting program at the University of Michigan. She's part of the Michigan Creative Film Alliance, a cooperative venture between MSU, University of Michigan and Wayne State to teach students the art and science of film-making.

The Creative Film Alliance was developed in response to the Michigan film tax incentive.

Critics say the tax incentives are not paying off. They says the incentives are to generous and that several proposed production studios have not materialized.

Screenwriter Jim Burnstein is with the Michigan Film Office advisory council. He says the development of major production studios, like City Center Studios in Lansing, didn't happen, not because of lack of interest, but because of a lack of financing.

"It's taken us forever to build these studios" he says, "now why is that, it's because Wall Street had a meltdown and the financing for these projects wasn't there."

But Burnstein says he is confident the studios will happen. He says in 2007 only 3 films were shot in Michigan. In 2008, the year the film incentive passed, 32 films were shot. Last year that number rose to around 50. He anticipates those numbers will continue to rise this year.

As the coordinator of the screenwriting program at the U of M, Burnstein says more of his students are getting jobs in Michigan. Before the incentive, almost all of his students left for California or New York, now he says about 80% are staying.

The film tax incentive does encourage filmmakers to use Michigan talent. While films receive a 30% tax break for filming in the state, they can receive more than 40% in tax breaks if they hire Michigan workers.

Kimberly Rice is the managing producer of the Creative Film Alliance. She says she has no doubt about where she'll live after she graduates with her master's from Wayne State.

"Detroit. I'm here. I would like to stay in Michigan." She says, "People have been trying to get me to go away from Detroit since I graduated from high school and I actually think as far as my career is concerned I thought it was perfect timing because as soon as I graduated that's when the whole thing happened, you know, everything, and I was like wow, maybe I did make a good decision. I'll stay."

Burnstein says despite the hardship Michigan's economy faced, many people have hope for the film industry's future in the state.

Michigan film industry officials say between 2008 and 2009 the industry brought $400 million into Michigan's economy. They expect an additional $300 million this year.

reWorking Michigan
For more on job creation and workforce evolution in Michigan, visit WKAR.org/reworkingmichigan