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Stateside: Clearing the tumbleweeds out of Michigan's film studios

Judy van der Velden

Not long ago stars like Mila Kunis, Ryan Gosling and Philip Seymour Hoffman were spotted in Michigan. For a brief moment the streets of Ann Arbor resembled those of New York or Los Angeles.

That was when Michigan offered the nation’s best subsidies for film and television production.

But to Governor Rick Snyder, these generous production tax incentives were not viable for our struggling state.

The incentives program was given a $25-milion dollar cap for the 2012 fiscal year.

Michigan’s tidal wave of film and TV production has slowed to a trickle.

Stateside’s Cyndy Canty spoke with Peter Carey, a Michigan actor who earned roles in 9 productions in 2011, including the Dreamworks film "Real Steel."

Looking back on the 2009 film fervor, Carey says, “Somebody opened the floodgates for work and this town went crazy. The film industry are able to come in mass and if you want them to stay, you supply them with infrastructure and they stay.”

At the time, Hollywood saw Michigan’s landscape and its population as assets.

“We’re kind of an undiscovered gem, with a workforce who is used to labor,” said Carey.

Carey saw production companies improve the buildings they worked in.

“They were going into locations with poor electricity and they would put new infrastructure in it,” said Carey. “It was good for us. It was also good for the communities.”

But with the removal of the incentives came the film industry’s swift exit. “The door slammed. If they’re going to invest, they need security,” said Carey.

Not knowing whether or not the opportunies afforded to them would be available the next year, Hollywood decided to produce its films elsewhere.

Who was hit hardest by the relocation?

“The people you don’t see,” said Carey.

The scrolling list of names one sees at the end of a film, after the Clooneys and the Goslings, those are the people affected by the cuts.

Carey says the state is now in a position where it must decide if the film industry is worth reviving.

When asked about the state of Michigan’s film industry in five years, Carey was pragmatic.

“We have an incredible creative community here. Michiganders are fighters. They love their state. But as far as the industry is concerned, you have to make a decision: Do you want to be a player or do you want to be somebody with tumbleweeds blowing through your studio?”

-Cameron Stewart

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