For such a beautiful part of Michigan, the U.P. isn’t ready for its close-up

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.

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Mon, 08/18/2014 - 8:31pm
The author is advocating for an increase in "income and revenue" through the film industry for "towns like Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie." On the surface that sounds great. Most people would love to see Marquette and the Soo benefit economically. But that doesn't help the UP which "could desperately use some" revenue. In fact, adding revenue from an outside source such at the film industry to places like Marquette and the Soo which have the UP's largest populations (as the author notes) coupled with reasonably high city millage levies will simply create a greater economic divide within the UP's municipalities. (And, in Marquette's case, they are also reaping the economic benefits of the hospital system recently becoming for profit (thus taxable) and the forthcoming satellite SmartZone.) Sure, Marquette and the Soo many not stack up economically to the Ann Arbors and Traverse Citys of the state, but within the context of the UP aiding Marquette and the Soo is making the rich richer. I don't wish to discourage any economic development within the UP, but helping Marquette and the Soo is not helping the UP in my opinion. There is a much greater need for economic development in once thriving communities that are now dying (e.g. Calumet, Ontonagon, countless others). Better to help the have nots than the haves.
Fri, 08/22/2014 - 12:18am
Actually, Sault Ste Marie in a previous census ranked as one of the top 10 lowest per capita income cities in all of the Upper Peninsula. Sault Ste Marie in no way should be looked at as the "rich getting richer." That is a misconception. Coincidentally, Marquette's per capita income was only average for the entire state, so the misconceptions of wealth that John is stating in the above post need to be reconsidered. The truth is that any economic advancement in the U.P. is needed at this point and what needs to be addressed more directly was the previous lack of support from the Michigan Film Office in terms of encouraging filming in the U.P. More filming projects in Marquette and the Sault will create more opportunities for other cities in the U.P., such as Calumet and Ontonagon and that most definitely needs to be encouraged.
Fri, 08/22/2014 - 11:48am
R - You're not looking "inside" the numbers. Sault Ste. Marie may be one of the 10 lowest per capita income cities in the UP, but there are only 24 cities in the UP. Also, the Soo's income statistics are skewed due to its large (relative to other UP communities) student population. That is why cities such as Houghton are deemed "poverty communities" by the state but Hancock, just across Portage Lake from Houghton, is not. You cannot justify relying on income measures for UP cities with universities of 2000+ students (Houghton, Marquette, Soo). The "student income" effect is smaller in the Soo relative to Houghton, for instance, but it's definitely there. When discussing community economics the Soo has the added complexity of being a par 3 away from a city of 75,000 that just happens to be in another country. Saying that "Marquette's per capita income was only average for the entire state" helps to prove my point. By any measure, Marquette is an economic powerhouse within the context of the UP. Name another UP city with a population of 25%+ students where the income is "average for the entire state." It's perfectly OK for us to agree that economic development is desperately needed in the UP and disagree on the merits that new industry in Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie have to that end. From my perspective it's not my "misconceptions of wealth" that needs to be reconsidered, but your misuse of statistics surely does. Ultimately, this disagreement is only tangential to the message that the Michigan Film Office should be encouraging filming in the UP. That's a message that we can agree on.
Fri, 08/22/2014 - 3:37pm
The census lists over 100 cities in the U.P.
Fri, 08/22/2014 - 11:35pm
R - No, it doesn't. The census lists charter townships, townships, villages, and census designated places in the UP, as well as cities, but it lists exactly 24 UP cities. Your previous statement is categorically false.
Sat, 08/23/2014 - 12:20am
R - With the American Community Survey (ACS) having essentially replaced the census long form, income data is not readily available for most UP cities. However, it is available for all 15 UP counties. I grant you that county data is not a perfect substitute for city data, but they are positively correlated. Marquette County (including the City of Marquette) ranks first (highest) among the UP's 15 counties in median household income per 2006-2010 and 2008-2012 ACS data. Chippewa County (including the City of Sault Ste. Marie) ranks sixth over both five-year periods. Median family income (family being different than household) data from the 2006-2010 ACS (the most recent I've located) has Marquette and Chippewa Counties ranked first and second (the two highest) in the UP.
Sat, 08/23/2014 - 1:26am
Please help support filming in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. No matter where it is.
Sat, 08/23/2014 - 8:01am
Well said.