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Seeds for a new economy

U-M’s chair of Theatre and Drama, and the president of U-M’s student film association cite their distinct reasons for continuing with one of the nation’s most attractive filmmaking incentives. The optimism of last few years is giving promise for more jobs and a dynamic film industry in Michigan. Now is not the time to stop, they say.

EDITOR’S NOTE: U-M student Barbara Rose Twist’s opinion appears after Priscilla Lindsay’s viewpoint.

By Priscilla Lindsay

As chair of the Department of Theatre & Drama at the University of Michigan, and as a longtime member of Screen Actors Guild (SAG), American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), and Stage Directors and Choreographers (SDC), I deplore the current plan to cap film incentives in the state of Michigan.  In the face of the obvious loss of income for Michigan businesses, the loss of jobs for our citizens (especially our young people), and the loss of prestige for our state, this governor seems bent on ignoring a good thing when he sees it.

In my department, located in the Walgreen Center on North Campus in Ann Arbor, undergraduates from around the nation are currently pursuing degrees in performance, design and production.  Ours is a conservatory-type training program, geared to preparing these young people for stage, film, and television work when they are graduated. Our alums can be found working in Hollywood on the set of Glee, on Broadway, and most recently – on films being shot in the state of Michigan. Ever since I arrived in Ann Arbor to begin my stint as Chair, theatre students have been knocking on my door, sitting down and telling me about their latest audition for a film, their Detroit agents, their roles in movies shot last summer, this fall, and projects coming up for spring and summer. The perception of this state as a place to make a living in “the biz” has changed.  There is actual “work” here!

Vince Mountain, associate professor of theatre in scene design in our department, was hired last summer as the set designer to work on the permanent sets for the first season of the new ABC drama, Detroit 1-8-7. He was able to get students hired on the project, and also saw colleagues being hired on several other feature films being shot in the Detroit area.  Vince says the amount of money he earned in one summer, plus the money he witnessed being spent locally at a variety of businesses (both on materials and labor), combined with the fabulous opportunity to work in the film industry convinced him of the positive and substantial impact the film incentive is having in southeastern Michigan. “Quite simply, there are jobs and resources available to a wide range of residents today that weren’t here two years ago, and won’t be here in the future without the incentive,” Vince told me.

Janet Maylie, assistant professor and teacher of Acting for the Camera classes states: “the high profile professional opportunities in this state, on-site on campus and off, have been irreplaceable educational experiences, giving the students “real-life” learning lessons in putting their film audition techniques to practice in actual auditions for professional work.  Several students have been hired as principal players in union films working with actors such as Adrian Brody, Richard Gere, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Ryan Gosling. This not only brings their class-work to the real world, but also it serves as a launching pad for their careers, right here in the state of Michigan. “

Film companies are required to hire Michigan artists and technicians, Michigan companies, in order to get the tax breaks.  All this goes away when the incentives go away. Unemployment goes up. Revenues from state and municipal taxes go down. Because this makes so little sense, I wonder if the Governor has another motive.

To watch a video produced by U-M students to promote filming in Ann Arbor, visit MADE IN ANN ARBOR.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This opinion is not endorsed or supported by the University of Michigan; it is solely the view of a University of Michigan faculty member.

Priscilla Lindsay is chair of the University of Michigan Department of Theatre & Drama.

Photos: Top — David Schwimmer, director of  “Trust,” and bottom, from “Salvation Boulevard,” starring Pierce Brosnan. Both films were shot in Ann Arbor.

OPINION: An incentive to stay in Michigan

By Barbara Rose Twist

When I first heard about the film tax incentives, I was in the middle of a difficult college decision. I had been accepted to several art schools in New York City that focused strictly on filmmaking, and I had been accepted to University of Michigan. For me, the choice was obvious at first: choose New York City, where culture and filmmakers coexisted.

In the middle of that cold winter, some day in March, an article in the Grand Rapids Press caught my eye. In that moment, everything shifted. Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed the Film Tax Credits into law, and my thoughts about film culture, about living where the filmmakers were, and about being part of something bigger than myself, changed. I chose the University of Michigan not for its outstanding academics, or more reasonable tuition rates, or even for its proximity to my home; I chose to attend the Screen Arts and Cultures department at University of Michigan because I knew I had a future here.

With the tax incentives in place, I knew a film industry would start to thrive, and that I could be a part of that, that I could be a part of something greater than myself here in Michigan, something that had not seemed possible before.

When I arrived in Ann Arbor, the first wave of Screen Arts graduates was heading out into the Michigan film industry. As in years past, several of them moved to Los Angeles or New York City hoping to strike it big, but even more of them, for the first time ever, stayed in Michigan to work. They moved into Detroit, living together, and began at the bottom, working their way up through the ranks quickly. Hollywood loves the Midwest — we are honest, hard-working individuals who pull our weight and still manage to be polite at the same time. It’s the values of the Midwest that come out so often in these jobs, and both my friends and I have been astounded with how appreciative many of these professionals are with our work ethic. Ever since that first wave, I have been waiting to graduate and, armed with all my knowledge from U of M, set out and make my way in the Michigan film industry.

It is with this in mind that you can understand my utter dismay at the budget proposal set forth by Gov. Rick Snyder. The creativity and ingenuity, which has emerged as a result of these incentives, would be devastating to lose; it would harm more than just the state budget. Without the film industry, the creative professionals, the young business graduates, the fresh out of college advertising majors, and everyone in between will flee, just as we’ve done in the past.

This industry has given graduates from the Business School to the Art School jobs and, more importantly, hands-on training from the professionals themselves. When we work on set, or in a production office, we are taught by the department heads from LA, NYC, and even by the Michigan crews that have come before us. This training will become invaluable as we graduate and stay in Michigan to start our own production companies and make the film industry ours.

After seeing the overwhelming support at the Town Hall Meeting in Livonia, Michigan on Thursday, February 24, I feel very strongly that we can work together to keep these Film Tax Credits in place. These incentives bring incredible benefits for both graduates and students at University of Michigan, and we should not let our voices go unheard. This is an industry that encourages creative growth, fosters a young living community in Detroit and brings business to the state.

As a film student about to graduate, these incentives are our future, and we cannot let them slip away.

Barbara Rose Twist is a University of Michigan student majoring in Screen Arts Cultures. She is president of the U-M student Film and Video Association.

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