The Michigan Film Office website is painfully lower Michigan-centric in terms of its listed locations. When I checked recently, the majority were in the far southern Lower Peninsula. Some calls, emails, and Twitter posts later, and already I’m seeing a site that feels more inclusive, with a section on their first page labeled, thankfully, “Submit Location.”
I talked to one worker in the Michigan film industry who said the problem with the Upper Peninsula not being seen in more films is its dearth of representation on the Michigan Film Office web page.
It is good that the M.F.O. is encouraging people to add locations. And those additions need to happen in the two most obvious film-centric towns in the U.P. – Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie, the only U.P. cities with more than 13,000 people.
Film work requires equipment and people. Larger towns like Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie stand a much better chance of emerging as U.P. outposts of Hollywood.
The shift in film production away from Los Angeles has been steady as various states and Canada provide a multitude of incentives. Vancouver and Toronto have long been Hollywood’s northern districts, but in more recent years, individual states have given generous cash incentives to filmmakers, including Michigan. My question is, why are so many movies not being shot in the U.P.?
Jason Hagen, production manager on multiple television series including “Cajun Pawn Stars” and “American Restoration,” as well as heading up the future low budget indie U.P. film “Northstar,” says of the Upper Peninsula, “The environment is extremely cinematic.”
That may seem obvious to us, but location scouts can sometimes only go off of what is made readily available on sources like the film office website. More Yooper businesses and need to nominate the top film spots for the region.
But beyond that, and perhaps even more important, is crew.
Outside production companies look for opportunities to work with qualified individuals who reside in the area – gaffers and unit managers and production assistants and accountants.
A search of the Michigan Film Office crew member listing shows that only one person is listed as an experienced crew member for the entire area of Marquette County. In fact, the entire U.P. only has five people listed on the M.F.O. site as people who can work crew.
Yoopers with film experience need to register (free) with the Michigan Film Office.
Heather Courtney, the Emmy Award- and Independent Spirit Award-winning director of the U.P. documentary “Where Soldiers Come From,” makes the conversation a bit more tricky, adding that a major issue is “the lack of a real production house in the U.P. that can rent the necessary equipment for a bigger budget film, and have replacement equipment and supplies at the ready.”
Hagen agrees, saying that with Northstar, “our biggest challenge is to bring filming resources up from the lower half the state.”
So what seems to be critical is a sufficient lower Michigan TV and film industry that ensures necessary equipment is available and transportable from downstate, and an Upper Peninsula network of location and crew participation demonstrated on the Michigan Film Office web page.
Is the answer that simple?
According to Joe Faultersack, a newbie Jackson-based director hoping to bring his Michigan film “Love is Blind” to fruition via Kickstarter, “How do you get people to film there? By having people film there.”
Getting a film industry going in the U.P. might just be as simple as getting a film industry going in the U.P.
And the payoff?
Luke Jaden, CEO of Detroit’s SOS Productions, a company that just wrapped up its shoot of the downstate feature film “Not Well,” says, “The income and revenue brought into Michigan from films filming here is tremendous!”
The U.P. could desperately use some.