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So, You Want to Make a Movie in Michigan


So, You Want to Make a Movie in Michigan?

Well, I just think that’s a great idea! I think it was a better idea a few years ago, but there’s truly no sense dwelling on times past. Returning to the point Luke made last month, Michigan saw a drastic change in film incentives from 2010 to 2011 when the budget dipped from a Granholm-approved $115 million to a Snyder-capped $25 million, causing Michigan to lose the bid on big-name films such as The Avengers and Iron Man 3. Did Michigan need a budget cap? Probably. Is $25 million that budget cap? “Nope,” decided the rest of Michigan legislature, and the cap was increased to $50 million for the 2013 fiscal year. In fact, such few funds were spent from the $25 million in 2012 that $8 million rolled over into 2013’s budget, allowing Michigan to bring $58 million to the table this year. Who took the bait?



Earlier this month, super-duper-sequel Transformers 4 stepped out of the city and was shooting scenes along M-52 in Fairfield Township. (Scenes from the 2007 Transformers film were also shot in Michigan). Rumors tell that the rainy weather we’ve been experiencing as of late had delayed shooting slightly, so don’t be surprised if you bump into a soaking-wet Optimus Prime en route to Chez Zara –– but Michigan has never been known to have unpredictable weather, has it?


And keeping the adrenaline alive last month, the film adaptation of the popular video game title Need for Speed appropriately shot scenes in the Motor City. Ever wanted to be an extra? Rumors say this crew is being extra polite and welcoming to spectators hoping to be a part of movie magic. I haven’t tried it yet, however –– so if you get a black eye for standing too close to Aaron Paul, you’re on your own.


Another name you’ll recognize is a project that currently has its thumb over the pause button, remake of popular 1987 action flick, RoboCop. (Details on this project are somewhat hushed, but there have been no confirmed reports that RoboCop is planning to bail.)

Michigan in the movies?! Oh my heavens!

Eh, actually, this isn’t big news. When people think of Michigan-made films, often the first two that jump to mind are Escanaba in da Moonlight and 8 Mile … which is amusing in itself because the two films could not possibly be any more different from one another while still being produced both in the mitten and within the same two years. Just for fun, let’s take a quick recap of some of the titles I think you’ll recognize in which the Michigan film industry played a significant part:

The Evil Dead     Beverly Hills Cop     Die Hard II     Out of Sight     Hardball     Driven     Road to Perdition

American Pie II     The Island     Four Brothers     Dreamgirls     Semi-Pro     Jumper     Gran Torino

These are just a handful of the big ones (today’s extra credit is to marvel at the increase since 2008).


But what exactly does it take to make a film in Michigan, and why should you do it?

For one, you should do it because the budget is allocating another $50 million in 2014 (much to Governor Snyder’s dismay) and who knows what the budget plan will be for 2015. If you’re going to make a film in Michigan anytime soon, you might want to scoop up these tax credits while they’re still hot. The current legislature is not approved for money distribution past 2017. The first rule of applying for this money is simple: if you want Michigan to allocate you some funding, you’d better spend some money in Michigan. The Michigan Film Office isn’t just going to write a check to get your project off the ground, however; the available funding is a partial reimbursement, not as a kickstarter. (Pst, need a Kickstarter campaign? Have you heard of Indiegogo?) You also have to be ready to give Michigan credit for helping you out. Even if you’re shooting out on Lake Superior for your new film California Dreamin’, you can’t claim that the whole film was dreamed in California. That’s easy enough, right? The Michigan tourism campaign (currently Pure Michigan) provides a piece of media for use that covers this agreement. The Michigan Film Office also supplies this little rule: “…the qualified production [must] not depict obscene matter or an obscene performance.” This particular agreement sounds tricky, being that “obscene” is subjective and can vary from person to person, but do keep in mind that the Michigan Film Office does reserve the right to refuse funding to any projects which they find morally inferior as defined by this legislature. Also keep in mind that this is the state that produced Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, and Ted Nugent …

Some other rules to follow:

– You have to spend at least $100,000 filming in Michigan, purchasing products in Michigan, doing Michigan things, and employing Michigan people. You must provide proof of these expenses.
– You (or your production company) can’t owe Michigan any back taxes. It’s generally a good idea to take care of this anyway.
– Your director / producer / cast of Michigan residents can’t make more than 10% of whatever you’re claiming. If they’re a non-Michigan resident, make that 5%. This means that for a small production claiming $4 million, current Michigan-resident Jeff Daniels could be offered up to $40,000, but former Dumb and Dumber co-star and L.A.-based Jim Carrey could only be offered up to $20,000. For a large production, no “above” or “below the line”, resident or non-resident crew can cost production more than $2 million.
– No less than 5% of production expenditures are to go towards your post-work. Hey, us editors need to eat, too! And Michigan kind of wants you to make us look cool … so no sloppy releases, deal?
– And if, for whatever reason, you provide false information in hopes of attaining some of this funding, we feed you to the Witchy Wolves, but only after collecting a penalty payment, of course.

“A person that willfully submits information under this section that the person knows to be fraudulent or false shall, in addition to any other penalties provided by law, be liable for a civil penalty equal to the amount of funding provided to the person under this section. A penalty collected under this section shall be deposited in the Michigan film promotion fund.” – Michigan Strategic Fund Act (excerpt)

The funding available is designed for film (and television) productions, but not any of the following:

– A production for which records are required to be maintained with respect to any performer in the production under 18 USC 2257.
– A production that includes obscene matter or an obscene performance.
– A production that primarily consists of televised news or current events.
– A production that primarily consists of a live sporting event.
– A production that primarily consists of political advertising.
– A radio program.
– A weather show.
– A financial market report.
– An awards show or other gala event production.
– A production with the primary purpose of fund-raising.
– A production that primarily is for employee training or in-house corporate advertising or other similar production.
– A commercial.

“Okay, I got it … but now what?”

Prepare your budget as you normally would, and start looking for that 32% minimum of pure Michigan personnel. It’s going to cost you .2% of your funding request to submit your application, no less than $200 but no more than $5,000. When preparing your application, you must include the following:

Expect at least 21 days for your application to be reviewed, and then … ready, set, go!

You must begin pre-production within 90 days of acceptance.

– estimated Michigan expenditures
– project type
– Michigan production days
– local hires
– script/storyboard
– insurance documents
– the budget
– any confidential information requirements
– and that initial application fee

And, of course, you can always check out the
Pure Michigan Film Office‘s website.