In 2008, when the auto industry began to falter, the collapse rippled across the state, eliminating most of the corporate video and commercial work off of which Ferndale resident Bradley Knopf made a living.
But the tide turned in his favor that same year when the state passed a tax-incentive package that granted film productions up to a 42 percent discount on in-state expenses.
Immediately, the incentive brought in a flood of productions, and Knopf and others like him were in high demand. After 20 years in film production, he was getting steady, well-paying work on feature films.
“The incentives kept me working,” Knopf said. He recently performed electrical work for the film Ides of March, starring George Clooney and Ryan Gosling, and has worked on such films such as Scream 4, Real Steel, Red Dawn, Transformers and Youth in Revolt.
Lately, the incentives have come under heavy scrutiny and have been threatened with elimination by Gov. Rick Snyder, who suggested in his proposed budget that production companies would share appropriated funds, capped at $25 million per year.
This change, hypothetical at the moment, has led to real consequences. Several productions that were scheduled to film in the state, such as Marvel’s The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, have pulled out of those plans.
S3 Entertainment Group, 1100 Woodward Heights, which helped produce Gran Torino and the upcoming film Kill The Irishman, has had to lay off four people as a result, said managing partner Jeffrey Spilman.
Projects in development are in limbo because they can’t move forward until there’s certainty. “The proposed change takes Michigan from being a significant player to a small dot on the radar screen,” Spilman said.
M-1 Studios President Matthew Peach said the company faces a similar situation. M-1 is trying to grow as a postproduction house, he said, but it won’t be able to if the tax-incentive change is approved.
The incentives also generated a young talent pool. Many schools in the Metro Detroit area added film programs, making a long-term investment in the industry, he said.
“The politicians running this state are supposed to be helping these people,” Peach said. “There’s so much more going on with industry than what’s showing up on reports.”
Initial reports showed the tax incentives as ineffective as far as building the state’s economy, but a recent Ernst & Young study found that for every dollar spent by the state on film productions, there is a $6 return. “Our incentive works, period,” Spilman said.
Film productions spend money everywhere, Peach said, and in various areas, including dry cleaning, lumber and transportation. “Businesses are getting the boost they need,” he said.
The industry also supports more people than usually thought, Knopf said. “They try to paint the picture that this is just writing a check to Hollywood, and that’s just not the case,” he said.
“When people think about movies, they think about the star, but they don’t think about the people behind the scenes.
“People pay bills, taxes, mortgages with that money.”
Knopf, 49, said the commercial work he used to do hasn’t regenerated enough to support his family. He knows of people already leaving the state and either moving back to where they came from or to more viable places. He said he has begun looking for work out of state.
However, he is optimistic that compromise will be reached and that the incentives will be altered into something workable.
He and many others in the industry have participated in protests and rallies, with the goal of educating everyone—especially the Legislature—about the importance of the incentives to the community as a whole.
"They’re given pieces of paper with numbers, and then they don’t see the faces behind them,” Knopf said.