Not dead yet: Movies still percolating in Michigan despite lapsed incentives

How much are show business and digital media entrenched in the state’s identity and branding messages? Perhaps more than originally predicted.

Incentives for producing movies in Michigan may have been discontinued, but the newly reinvented Michigan Film & Digital Media Office, formerly the Michigan Film Office, said it still has a significant role in promoting film and digital media job growth.

The office changed its name last September to reflect its new role.

According to 2014 data, Michigan ranks 11th in the U.S. in employment in digital media-intense industries. It ranks second among the Midwest states; Illinois is first. The state employs more than 130,000 in jobs that focus on digital media. More than 56 percent of these jobs are in Wayne, Oakland and Kent counties.

Jenell Leonard, commissioner of the Michigan Film & Digital Media Office, said that when she took the job a year ago she walked into a volatile environment with the state losing all of its film incentives.

“We knew we needed to take action in selling Michigan as the creative hub of the Midwest,” she said.
Among her office’s actions in recent months:

  • Attempting to build tourism as part of the newly released film “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Much of it was filmed in Michigan.
  • A partnership with Google Inc., at Google’s expense, that offers a free online coding program for fourth- to eighth-graders in 70 schools across the state. This means 3,500 youngsters will learn coding either in class, after school or during the summer.
  • Shooting a new Comedy Central series in Detroit this summer called “Detroiters.” The show produced a pilot in Detroit last year before the film incentives dried up. It went so well, the creators decided to film in Detroit without incentives. It happened because city of Detroit and film office representatives worked together to accommodate crews and budget for the TV production, Leonard said. Detroit native and actor Sam Richardson is featured in the TV show and has a major role in its creation.
  • The film “Transformers 5” is being shot in Detroit this summer.

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Mon, 03/28/2016 - 10:56am
This shows the legislature made the right decision to end film subsidies in Michigan. Perhaps other states will now follow our lead and end the "bidding war" of unnecessary, lucrative cash incentives for Hollywood producers.
Mon, 03/28/2016 - 11:49pm
I know right - we need to end these film distractions! States need to focus on bidding wars (against themselves) on how many hundreds of millions to throw to sports billionaires who threaten to move!!
Mon, 03/28/2016 - 12:57pm
Glad budget draining subsidies ended and equally glad media business is being encouraged..
Mon, 03/28/2016 - 2:13pm
The grant program was only intended to help producers discover Michigan and drop an anchor in Michigan for future work... it did dad apparently so it worked!
Mike R
Tue, 03/29/2016 - 12:24pm
I'm glad to hear that there's still some life (however meager) in Michigan's media production industry. Now, imagine how much greater it would be had the legislature and governor, with their short-sightedness and bean-counter mentalities, not whip-sawed Hollywood so dismally and made it impossible for studios to plan a production here with any confidence. Transformers 5 is being shot here only because it was the recipient of the last of the incentives. Batman vs. Superman employed in Michigan more than 3,000 Michigan residents directly and tens of thousands more in ancillary businesses, and the positive image reinforcement if brought to the Pure Michigan campaign (now squandered by another administration bungle, the Flint water crisis) was incalculable. I personally know more than a dozen young, creative people who grew up in this state and worked in the movies here but who had to leave for LA or NY to find work after the incentives were killed. Yet, I would wager that those people who are glad to see the end of "the bidding war of unnecessary, lucrative cash incentives for Hollywood producers" are the first to support tax abatement competition among cities for every tech company making claims it will create a dozen new jobs in return for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in foregone revenue to the municipality.