Engaging with…Michigan’s Film Industry

By Brad O’Neil

There has been much adieu recently about the infamous film incentive program enacted under the Granholm Administration. It was instituted at the height of the great recession as a way to quickly attract much needed economic activity to the state and by most accounts, it’s been very successful.

A litany of production companies have set up shop right here in Michigan to film blockbusters like Gran Torino, Batman v. Superman, Transformers, and many others. In fact, the film industry has spent over $1.3 billion in Michigan since the film incentives were instituted in 2008. All at a cost to Michigan of about $450 million – that’s a pretty good return on investment. Not to mention the buzz it’s created among residents as they try to catch a glimpse of Ben Affleck or Clint Eastwood grabbing lunch downtown. It’s fostered a sense of pride in the state and has been a great marketing tool in the effort to rebuild Michigan’s image.

None of this seems to matter to Republican legislators, however, because by next year they’re planning to eliminate the incentives completely. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise though and many saw the writing on the wall after massive cuts were made to the program last year. What is surprising is what’s also being targeted for elimination – the long established Michigan Film Office.

It seems Republicans want to nix Michigan’s film industry altogether and closing the Michigan Film Office is the final nail in the coffin. The office, established in 1979, is responsible for assisting and attracting production companies so that they create films in Michigan. It’s completely divorced from the film incentive program and its existence is so commonplace that all other states have one. And 39 of them offer some version of a film incentive program.

So, why target it? There’s absolutely no good reason. There’s no good reason to shut down a film office that has served Michigan well for over 35 years, constantly working to draw economic activity to the state and requiring less than a million dollars a year to run.

No good reason except that it’s easier than doing the real job of legislating. It’s easier than listening to the voices of constituents, it’s easier than fostering collaboration and hammering out deals, and it’s easier than facing the hard fact that Michigan needs new revenue to fix our embarrassing excuse of an infrastructure.

It truly is a shameless strategy, one meant to disguise Republican unwillingness to do these things by convincing people that co-opting money wherever it can be exploited the easiest – without regard for the effect it will have on the future of our state – is the only way to fix our roads. It’s not.