Thursday, December 10, 2009

Backers lobby lawmakers to keep Michigan film incentive

Supporters, worried about wariness in Lansing, emphasize jobs, economic impact

Nathan Hurst / The Detroit News

While the public debate has quieted, backers of Michigan's fledgling film industry continue lobbying Lansing lawmakers to retain special tax incentives intended to lure them to the state.

Producers, directors and other industry leaders have met with politicians in recent weeks, making their case to keep the tax breaks.

While they say there's wiggle room in the percentage offered to qualifying productions and firms, the industry representatives say it's imperative to maintain Michigan's claim to the nation's most aggressive tax incentive program for filmmakers.

"This is a situation in which the future of our economy, and the budding of a valuable industry for Michigan workers, is at stake," said Jeffrey Spilman, a partner at Ferndale-based S3 Entertainment Group, a company that helps coordinate productions in Michigan.

"Besides employing talent, production crews and people directly involved with filming, Michigan businesses such as hotels, restaurants and dry cleaners are all reaping the benefits of an increased customer base. The reach of the film incentives extends far beyond film itself."

Spilman and producers of "The Wannabes," a television show slated for syndication next year, met with lawmakers last week to discuss how the incentives are helping to bring steady business to Michigan.

Some fiscal conservatives said the financially strapped state can't afford the program, which offers a refundable tax credit of between 30 and 42 percent for in-state costs for qualifying productions.

Backers succeeded in convincing legislators that Michigan's tax incentives, the nation's most aggressive, hadn't had enough time to encourage industry developers to build essential infrastructure projects.

Revisions under consideration include a reduction in the rebate percentage for qualifying productions, and an increase in the amount given to infrastructure projects such as studios and post-production facilities. A 25 percent incentive is offered to such projects under the current package.

Michigan Film Office spokesman Ken Droz said nearly 50 projects have received a green light this year, spending about $216 million.