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Opinion | The case for bringing back film incentives to Michigan

The most valuable commodities that we have are our values and experiences, and who we are, and there’s no better way to create change — to create real and actual change — than by telling stories, and through those stories, sharing our values and experiences with each other, and the world.

Christopher Cosmos
Christopher Cosmos is a screenwriter and author from Grand Rapids.

I have a unique perspective. I grew up and lived my whole life in Michigan, graduating from Lowell High School (near Grand Rapids) and then attending the University of Michigan. After graduation I moved to Los Angeles to work in the entertainment business. 

I’ve since moved back home to Michigan, but while I was in Los Angeles, I worked at a leading film and television production company with a first-look deal at New Line Cinema, beginning as an intern, then quickly being promoted to creative executive, director of development and finally vice president. 

While I worked there, I participated in and was part of the meetings in which we discussed and helped decide where major studio movies would be filmed. Does having the largest incentive in the country help during those conversations? It certainly doesn’t hurt, but the thing that was most discussed was which states had any incentive at all, rather than how large those incentives were. The options were then split into states that had an incentive, regardless of size, and the states that didn’t.

What I learned is that being on that list and simply being an option provides a great opportunity for increased spending in the state in just about every sector, as has been widely discussed and shown in support of incentives of all shapes and sizes, to either lure or keep that very significant amount of business (In 2014, the final year of the Michigan film incentive, the Michigan Film Office approved $62 million in incentives for 27 projects which collectively brought and spent $245.5 million in the state). 

The part that hasn’t been discussed, though, is that while it’s no secret we live in a time of great political polarization, this idea of influence through culture and storytelling (and also the myriad financial benefits of building and bringing an industry back to our state that has largely left) is one of the very rare bipartisan issues that can bridge that political divide and polarization. 

There are currently well over 30 states and territories that have recognized the  monetary and cultural benefits and have an incentive of some sort, and those states span the political spectrum (South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama have great incentives, as do Washington, Oregon and California; Ohio, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana have some of the best incentives in the world along with New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Illinois).

These states don’t always share the same political views, but they all offer some sort of incentive, ranging from modest to expansive, in a way that works best for them, their residents and their constituents.

We can do the same here. 

In this time of great political polarization, what better to bring us together than an effort that will not only create jobs and significantly increase tax revenue and spending, but will highlight our culture, who we are, the beauty of this state, our state, the most beautiful state, and export all that to the rest of the country, and the world.

It’s time to bring back film incentives, for the good of all our residents, and this time, let’s keep it here because we can’t afford the amount of business and influence we’re losing by being one of the few states who have decided to sit out. As the world shrinks and volatility increases, we can’t afford to turn away one of the few recession-proof industries, and especially one that’s ready, waiting and eager to return.

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