Michigan Film Tax Incentives = A bust….


Being a native Michigander, who has seen “an award-winning independent motion picture production company and production facility” (10 West Studios) move into her small hometown of Manistee, MI, I have taken a very personal interest in the tax incentives for films (specifically film studios and production).  10 West Studios has worked on unknown films (mostly made-for-tv) like “Return to the Hiding Place”, “Jerusalem Countdown”, and “What If …” starring Kevin Sorbo, Kristy Swanson, Debby Ryan and others (Citation 1 and Citation 2).

10 West founders and Michigan natives, Harold Cronk and Matthew Tailford, were quoted saying: “Looking ahead 10 years, writers and actors will flourish on the coasts, but if homegrown movie makers will stay in Michigan and make their films here, the industry will flourish in the state.  ‘I am from Michigan and am committed to this state. We won’t be  those filmmakers that take the 40 percent state rebate and run back to L.A.’ said Cronk.  ‘We are here to stay. Our goal is make sure filmmakers have a great experience here. We want them to leave our studio smiling and happy.’” (Citation)

To make a VERY long story short, when MI elected their most recent governor, Rick Snyder, he changed the tax incentive from the 42% state rebate to a rebate with a annual cap of $25 million grant program for film projects (Citation).  Since then, films such as Captain America and The Avengers have left MI (Captain America) for OH and Iron Man 3 who left MI for North Carolina.  (Iron Man)  Though some are upset about the governmental policy change, most are not.

“In 2010, that state’s incentive program cost $117 million, and in return it created 1,039 full-time jobs; that breaks down to Michigan paying an enormous $112,608 per job. And even taking into account the tax receipts generated by the productions, the program had a net loss of $60 million.” (Citation)  Why isn’t MI putting money into the auto industry or into tourism or into their failing education system??

Currently, there is a LOT of hype about this as the MI Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville has been very vocal about the past incentives.  On the radio last week Richardville said, “We’ve done a really good job of creating an infrastructure, a workforce and businesses to support this industry,” he said last week on WJR-AM 760. “We got Hollywood’s attention and local filmmakers’ attention. And now that we’ve got the industry under way, we want to make it more reasonable with the amount that we do give back that gives taxpayers a lot better return on their dollar than the orignal program did.” (Citation)  Richardville also agrees that the 42% incentive was unsustainable, but he still think it helped initially…

A few more numbers:

“Real Steel,” a Hollywood blockbuster starring Hugh Jackman that shot scenes in Hartland Township. The production hired a total of 456 Michigan workers, spent $49 million in Michigan and was granted an $18.3 million rebate.  “Real Steel” opened this month, taking in $27.3 million during its opening weekend in the United States, according to The Internet Movie Database. (Citation).


I can see where film tax incentives can be argued as good or bad…  What are people’s thoughts?  Is it unfair to workers?  Beneficial for the local community?  Is it becoming too prominent with 2008 showing “the percentage of runaway productions from the US over 50%” and “42 of 103 television pilots” should outside LA” and only 21 big-budget feature films shot in LA, when in 1996 there were 71?

-Emmalyn Helge

Perren, Alisa. “Producing Filmed Entertainment.” Managing Media Work. California: Sage Publishers, 2011.

Randle, Keith. “The Organization of Film and Television Production.” Managing Media Work. California: Sage Publishers, 2011.


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