Michigan Film Industry Comes Up North

Pam Yee got her casting call and jumped in her car. The Benzie County artist was due on the set—actually a Leelanau County RV park—at 10 a.m. as an $8-an-hour extra for the film, Youth in Revolt, starring Michael Cera (Juno), Portia Doubleday, Steve Buscemi, Jean Smart, Ray Liotta and Fred Willard, to be released by MGM sometime in 2009.

Based on the bestselling teen-angst novel by C.D. Payne, Youth in Revolt was shot last summer in Interlochen, Frankfort and Leelanau County, one of about 32 film and television projects that came to Michigan in 2008, thanks to enticing tax breaks announced last April.

While only a handful were shot Up North besides Youth—among them the horror film, Offspring, in the Muskegon area and Munising in the U.P., and the Rothbury Music Festival in early July, which aired on MTV—sound stages and production facilities are cropping up all over to attract Tinseltown types. Manistee’s 10 West Studios boasts 1,500 acres of land under management and plans seven sound stages on Lake Manistee and in the town’s old Iron Works factory. Partners Harold Cronk and Matt Tailford have returned to their native Northern Michigan after four years in Hollywood and initially foresee production of up to seven feature films at the studio. To get locals involved, a Michigan Workforce Training Program partnership with West Shore Community College in Manistee County started offering four modules of film-production instruction in February. Interlochen Center for the Arts also offers motion picture arts classes for students in grades 9 through 12.

Rivet Entertainment TV producer Bill Latka moved back to Traverse City after living in Los Angeles for two decades, according to the Michigan Film Office, and is spending thousands of dollars in both renovations and a post-production studio, expects to hire 15 to 20 staff and is working on a $5-million feature film to be shot entirely in Michigan. And filmmaker Michael Moore, founder of the Traverse City Film Festival, moved his production company, Dog Eat Dog Films, from New York to the Traverse City area in 2008.

For Michigan, with its worst-in-the-nation unemployment rate, making movies can mean boom time for small businesses, such as hardware stores, cleaners, gyms, restaurants, caterers, lumber supply, grocery stores, vintage and second-hand clothing stores, hotels, conference facilities, and anyone with a salable script to be spun on the silver or flat screen. Ken Droz, manager of creative and communications in Lansing’s Michigan Film Office, points to the $38,500 in revenues that Traverse City’s Great Wolf Lodge took in while housing various cast and staff during the filming of Youth, and the $8,000 in gross sales that Interlochen State Park made in five days of hosting—up 23 percent from the same period a year before.

That’s why about 80 people, many from the North’s chambers of commerce and visitors bureaus, showed up for a meeting in Petoskey last November announcing the Northern Michigan Film & Media Group. The roundtable event featured historian and filmmaker George Colburn, with offices in Petoskey, New Mexico and Washington, D.C., who said a central clearinghouse for resources and talent—meaning a dedicated Northern Michigan Film Office—is needed, and quickly. For his part, Walloon Lake’s Walt Breidenstein, CEO of Build It Global Inc., a company that creates software for Hollywood production companies, put together a website with a rundown of what’s available in his neck of the woods. “When the film office comes up to Northern Michigan, then we’ll be here as an option—our group is just trying to collaborate, show some unity, try to be open. We have a lot of really good people up here who shoot film, video, scriptwriters, and so on.”

Breidenstein’s company is feverishly working on a groundbreaking way to distribute films: The technology to convert uploaded video files into high-definition, TV-ready format, capable of streaming on an interactive TV channel on the Internet and mobile devices, as well as scheduled TV. The movies and videos will be played on the Interactive TV channel located at BIG-iTV.com. “I’m 50 percent done with the software. In another couple months I’ll be done.”

Stay tuned, Northern Michigan. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Patty LaNoue Stearns is a frequent contributor to Traverse.

Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    Dear Editor:

    Thanks for the timely Film North article by Patty Lanoue Stearns in the April 2009 issue.

    I had the chance to talk with Jane Seymour about her experience in Michigan filming “Somewhere in Time.” She reflected on how Northern Michigan’s resources were the ideal backdrop for that film.

    The Manistee County community is putting its shoulder behind 10 West Studios to help them leverage Northern Michigan’s great natural resources and apply the technical, human and facility infrastructure that they have amassed to film in-house productions and bring big league production companies to Northern Michigan.

    A study completed in February 2009 by Michigan State University’s Center for Economic Analysis focused on the economic impact of Michigan’s motion picture production industry, including the State Film Production Credit, enacted in 2008, that provides a tax credit to encourage Michigan-made films.

    The study finds that in the nine months following passage of the Michigan Film Production Credit, 32 Michigan Film productions were completed, generating nearly $70 million in spending. The study estimates that by 2012, total direct film production expenditures will climb to $187.8 million and likely produce 2,922 jobs with annual income of $189.5 million, a total state impact of $335.6 million, including a multiplier effect.

    This is good news for Michigan and certainly good news for 10 West Studios, their clients and our Manistee community. With a team effort, we can show investors and production companies alike that Northern Michigan has the facilities, the people, the technical skills and, yes, the natural beauty to generate great films along an entirely different “west coast.”

    As Ms. Stearns noted: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

    Sincerely,

    Tim Ervin
    Manistee