Film Office starts new year with more dollars, higher hopes

With a new fiscal year ahead, the Michigan Film Office is emerging from a “rebuilding year” with more money to give away and a mission to support locally grown filmmakers.

After seeing the movie industry turn from red-hot to cold with the end of an open-ended 42 percent subsidy, Michigan has a new pool of money – $58 million – to give away this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Film Office staffers are more optimistic more productions will be working here.

“We’re no longer the most competitive (state), but more like middle to upper-middle of the pack,” said Michelle Begnoche, spokeswoman for the Film Office. “So we have to be more customer-friendly.” Along those lines: A new, streamlined application will make it easier for producers to apply for a share of the money.

The $58 million figure represents a new pool of $50 million, double the amount of the year before, as well as an unspent $8 million from the previous year. That had been reserved for a production -- “Last Vegas” – that opted to go elsewhere.

Forty states and the District of Columbia offer some sort of financial support for film and television production, and Michigan’s was, for a while, the best in the nation. That changed when Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature cut the subsidies, which had been a straight 42 percent tax credit, to a flat $25 million. Several producers abruptly dropped the state from consideration as a location, and what had once been a booming business slowed to a trickle. The bump to $50 million will make the state a player again, Begnoche said.

The reimbursements will be made based on percentages spent on goods and services, and on both resident and non-resident personnel.

“Black Sky,” a thriller about a tornado, was shot on location and at Pontiac’s Michigan Motion Picture Studios, formerly Raleigh Studios, this past summer. Films shot in Michigan being released soon include “Alex Cross,” “This Must Be The Place,” “Red Dawn” and, next year, “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” a special effects-heavy Sam Raimi film that shot entirely at Michigan Motion Picture Studios.

Begnoche said the office is continuing to look for locally grown ones made by native Michiganians. “Detropia,” the well-reviewed Detroit documentary that opened in September, was co-produced by Farmington native Heidi Ewing, and received a $111,857.57 subsidy from the film office.

Officials from the Film Office are looking to make a trip to Los Angeles later this year to tout the state to industry executives, Begnoche said.

Staff Writer Nancy Nall Derringer has been a writer, editor and teacher in Metro Detroit for seven years, and was a co-founder and editor of, an early experiment in hyperlocal journalism. Before that, she worked for 20 years in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she won numerous state and national awards for her work as a columnist for The News-Sentinel.

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