Michigan Legislature says “cut” to film incentives

By: Dave Palmer

The only thing that stands between retaining a vibrant part of this nation’s economy and its final curtain call is a stroke of Governor Rick Snyder’s pen. And if Snyder does indeed make that stroke on the signature line of this bill, Michigan can say goodbye to more good jobs and more reasons for people to move here and make a life for themselves.

The main complaint coming from the legislature (and mostly from the Republicans that dominate both chambers) is that the film incentives are costing the state too much money, and there is not enough return on the money. And this would be sound reasoning if there was any truth to the claim.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the Michigan Film Office reported that about $425 million has been spent by the state as incentives to film companies. However, this $425 million translated into $1.2 billion in spending from each and every person involved in creating films like “Gran Torino”, “The Island,” and the latest installment of the “Transformers” saga. That’s more than $2 returned for every $1 paid in incentives.

Another idea foisted by the legislature is that the money could be better spent on schools and roads, that the film industry will continue to come here whether or not we have film incentives because of Michigan’s diverse geography and topography that lends to the kind of on-site shooting that can’t be reproduced in a sound stage.

However, our esteemed state representatives are taking a three week respite without making any moves on correcting our failing infrastructure. The state senate is only taking a week, but is no closer than the House to a solution for our roads. As far as spending more money on schools is concerned, it is true that the legislature voted to increase per student spending by $70 to $140, depending on the overall financial status of the district, with poorer districts getting the higher amount. But, that increase will be all but erased as districts lose the $50 per student increase they got for implementing state “best practices” of posting budget transparency on their website among other requirements that are not directly related to better educating our students.

So, one is left scratching the old noggin trying to figure out exactly what our legislature is doing that will actually benefit the middle class and workers of this state, and exactly what will draw movie makers to this state.

Of course, Hollywood could get some great shots of our roads for movies that are based in a post-apocalyptic world where road maintenance is non-existent. However, their efforts may be stymied by the reality of our roads’ condition, and they can only afford to replace so many undercarriage parts before they decide to try their hand at digital effects.

However, if we are under-funding our schools and by extension under-educating our students, it seems unlikely that any movie producer will be able to find anyone who is qualified to be anything more than the person who gets the crew coffee. After all, a high school diploma is required to get into any sort of film school. Maybe film producers could get another “Children of the Corn” out of us.

It is obvious that lawmakers in Lansing have given no thought to the investment many people in this state made in anticipation of starting their own business or creating a new career. People who have spent tuition money on retraining or invested part of their savings in starting a business designed to attract those from the film industry will have to watch all their work swirl down the drain, or pick up the shattered pieces of their life and leave for a destination more friendly to film incentives.

The bottom line is that cutting the film incentives is a dumb idea. Other states that create, maintain, or increase existing incentives will get a $2 return for every $1 spent and see it as a sound investment in their economy. Hollywood can and will travel all over the nation to make a single movie, and cutting the film incentives will ensure that they travel anywhere but her.

If Governor Snyder has any sense at all, he would uphold the professed Republican ideal of protecting and supporting the small business owners by vetoing this bill. After all, it will be the small business owners who suffer the most as the movie jobs are displaced to other parts of this nation. It will be the local coffee shops, caterers, and restaurants that will hurt. It will be the people to invested their life savings in starting a film company or special effects company locally that will be forced to make the tough choices.

The film industry will continue to prosper whether or not we have film incentives. The smart choice is protecting the livelihoods of those who made life choices based on what seemed to be a smart investment by our state. Be sure to contact the governor today to tell him that maintaining the film credits will be a step in protecting the small businesses of Michigan.