News Column

Michigan still reeling out cash incentives

June 15, 2013


June 15--TRAVERSE CITY -- The heyday of Michigan's movie incentives has faded, but director Rich Brauer lauded the state's restructured movie incentive program as "very, very intelligent."

"The administration decided not to kill the incentives, but to make them a lot smarter," said Brauer, who will receive a $123,209 payment for his newest project, Dogman 2: Wrath of the Litter.

Michigan once offered the most generous movie incentive program in the country, giving filmmakers a tax credit of 40 to 42 percent for costs -- with no cap on how much could be awarded. At its height in 2010, Michigan paid $115 million in film incentives, drawing a huge influx of movie projects to the state, 58 in all, said Michigan Film Office spokeswoman Michelle Begnoche.

But the incentive program was criticized as too costly, and Gov. Rick Snyder put an end to the unlimited cap when he took office.

The Michigan Film Office will reel out a more modest $50 million in incentives this fiscal year, ending Sept. 30. A total of 21 movie projects have been approved so far, including Transformers 4, Begnoche said.

On Thursday, Snyder signed a budget that included $50 million for movie incentives for the upcoming fiscal year. He originally proposed $25 million, concerned that film money drains funds from education and public safety. But aggressive film producers successfully lobbied to maintain the current $50 million level.

"We are actually in very good shape," said Begnoche, adding that some in the public mistakenly think the incentive program is dead and on its last legs.

Begnoche said the incentives were improved in numerous ways. Instead of giving tax credits, the Michigan Film Office is providing film makers with a direct refund so movie makers can get a check as soon as the movie wraps and numbers are audited.

Rebate rates vary, but money spent in Michigan is reimbursed more generously. Michigan crews, for example, get a 32 percent refund compared to 20 percent for out-of-state crew members.

The original incentive was criticized because movie makers often shipped in most of their crews and talent from Los Angeles or New York City. Begnoche said that's because the film industry was still in its infancy and Michigan didn't have enough skilled manpower. Now it has much more to offer, thanks to the state's earlier movie boomlet.

Brauer said an accountant from the Michigan Film Office met with him on Wednesday to ensure that his accounting methods fit their reporting requirements.

"That just amazed me," he said. "They are being super proactive, 'Let's get to them early so when they finish the film, just hit 'print.' I give these guys a ton of credit. That never would have happened before."


(c)2013 The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.)

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