Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hollywood and the Detroit Film Boom

The good folks at Model D - occasional publishers of my writing - held an event this past Thursday. It was another installment of their regular speaker series, this one focusing on "Hollywood and the Detroit Film Boom".

Since then, no fewer than six people have asked what I thought about the event. I figure it's time for me to just put my thoughts out on my blog.

Overall, I thought it was a very good presentation, featuring Tony Wenson from the Michigan Film Office, Jill Ferrari from the Wayne County Executive's Office and Eric Tungate from the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. Close to two hundred people showed up at the Anderson Auditorium at the College for Creative Studies for this event. They ranged from industry insiders to students to random people off the street.

The three people who presented managed to walk a very fine line. They went into enough detail, and with enough complexity, that the professionals in the room didn't feel like it was a waste of their time to be there. However, they still managed to keep things simple and basic enough that curious newbies in the room didn't develop a "deer in the headlights" look.

Some of the highlights from the evening included:
  • Everyone explained their individual role in the larger process of building a film industry in southeastern Michigan.
  • Mr. Wenson gave an overview of the process whereby production companies get approved for and receive the new tax incentives for filming in Michigan.
  • It was generally agreed that the rumor about Warner Brothers buying the old Wixom plant was just that, a rumor. The fact that Mr. Wenson said it was a rumor is important because any application for the tax incentives - such as for converting the plant to a studio facility - would go across his desk.
  • Chris Baum from the Detroit Metro Visitors & Convention Bureau announced that they were going to have another big ad in this coming week's issue of Variety to tout Detroit as filmming location. This, of course, reminded me that I need to renew my subscription to Variety.
During the Q&A period, some guy stood up and said that his L.A. connections had informed him of a meeting of various studio executives where a considerable amount of Michigan-bashing went on and they felt that we had quite a lot to learn about making movies. The presenters were diplomatic about how the film incentives are only 19 weeks old so we're bound to have a certain amount of growing pains.

There really can't be any questioning about the whole issue of Michigan ramping up its film business quickly. We currently have enough trained crew members to support one or two feature films at a time fully. More people are coming into the business, but it'll take a few months before they're fully ready.

Yes, the three presenters were rather diplomatic about that question. I, however, can't help but feel rather skeptical about the whole thing.

This guy says that he has "L.A. contacts" who know about conversations between "studio executives". The funny thing is, when this presentation was over, I broached the subject to 11 different people who work in the business; all of whom have contacts in New York and L.A. None of them had ever seen or heard of this guy before nor had they ever heard any kind of Michigan-bashing coming out of Hollywood.

I can't help but feel that this guy is a proud member of the I Pull Stuff Out of My Arse Club. Unfortunately, there's something about the motion picture industry that almost guarantees that there will be a member of that club at any public presentation like this one.

Finally, where the event was over, the good folks at CCS and Model D were kind enough provide everyone with a bountiful selection of wine, cheese and other goodies. This means that one of my favorite Detroit-based bloggers really did miss out.

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