Matt Tailford and Harold Cronk had a lot to learn about filmmaking and the movie industry, and one thing they learned was that filmmakers often want what Michigan movie-making provides. These two successful filmmakers, and their 10 West Studios, are convinced that the Manistee region fits the bill for a lot of movies getting made.

Tailford and Cronk had spent years working their way into the filmmaking world and when Michigan passed into law tax credits for the film industry, the two saw richer opportunities here. Yes, a way to make money, but also a way to help bring a new industry to a state sorely in need of jobs, and a faster route to the finish line of creating their own content.

The two also wanted to protect Michigan from film carpetbaggers—companies that would take the tax credits and then take the profits out of state. Wanting to build a local labor force, 10 West Studios ran classes at West Shore Community College to teach set skills.

“We are targeting a particular type of film, the $1 million to $20 million film,” Tailford says. “Those films have a whole different set of needs than a $150 million film, and more than anything else, they need practical locations.” So, not necessarily a gigantic warehouse, but something big enough, and warm and safe and quiet.

And they need beauty. In Manistee that beauty is also flexible. Lake Michigan can double for the ocean. Drop a camel on a sand dune and you have a desert. Manistee also has an industrial legacy—smokestacks, factories, giant ship docks—andsmall town streetscapes. If moviemakers need an urban look for some scenes, Grand Rapids is two hours away—not so unlike getting across town in Los Angeles traffic.

The idea of Manistee as film central of the Great Lakes might all sound like a cartoon dream, a film fantasy itself, if 10 Westhadn’t already shot three films here by the end of 2009, including films that brought in household name talent. Sorbo shared the set with John Ratzenberger (played Cliff Clavin on Cheers), Kristy Swanson (Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Debby Ryan (a Walt Disney child star best known for playing Bailey Pickett in The Suite Life on Deck). After their two weeks of shooting ended and the stars left town, the next film, Revelator, came in during July and August. Then Jerusalem Countdown took over in the fall, treating Manistee residents to such Tinseltownesque moments as a stunt man diving through a plate glass window three stories up and Lee Majors running down the street while chased by a pickup truck firing a machine gun.

Watch videos from the Traverse City Film Festival, including interviews with Larry Charles, Phil Donahue as well as comedy and filmmaker panel discussions.

Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski