Q&A with Carrie Jones

Carrie Jones is the new director of the Michigan Film Office. Given that our issue is devoted in part to the burgeoning film industry here, we caught up with Carrie for some reel talk.

BN: What does the Michigan Film Office do?

CJ: It was actually first opened in 1977 by Governor Milliken. Then in 2008 Governor Granhom said she wanted the most aggressive film incentive program in the country, so we looked at programs everywhere. Our current program pays back 40 percent to approved filmmakers on all Michigan expenditures, or up to 42 percent if the expenditures are made in 136 'core communities,' which include several urban areas, and all county seats. So we review applications from filmmakers, we ask to see their financial projections and details on whom they might hire from Michigan, we review all of the documents and take several factors into consideration. Will the movie promote tourism here? Will there be an economic impact? Will they hire enough Michigan people? If so, we give approval to the production company to proceed, and they get the 40 percent.

BN: The critics of the incentive say it's not delivering the net benefits the state needs.

CJ: Well, we use the numbers to judge it. In 2007, there were three films in Michigan. Last year, there were 38, and they spent $220 million in the state. So far we've only paid out $12 million on that 220, and we were projecting to pay out $60 million. That's quite a return on investment. We also have anecdotal evidence. You hear stories about a big sci-fi Dreamworks movie filming in southeast Michigan right now; they need highly trained, skilled craftspeople that are being put to work. In Ann Arbor in 2009 they had 20,000 hotel nights directly attributable to the film industry. Some 4,000 jobs were created last year. They might be four- or six-month jobs, but the salary is often the same as a full-year traditional job. But we need to do something more to show people the impact it's having.

BN: So you're just now taking over for Janet Lockwood as director. How is that going?

CJ: I've been deputy director since February, and I'm taking over, effective July 1. I guess one of the things I've seen and been surprised by is the support our program has and the impact it has on the morale and pride for this state. It's also an industry seen as exciting with lots of opportunity, which is keeping young people here. I'm just so passionate about our state, and I'm so excited.

BN: What about our very own Traverse City Film Festival? Have you been?

CJ: I've been there before in another role, so this will be my inaugural year of really getting into it. I think it's phenomenal. Michael Moore, by creating this Film Festival, is helping us gain national prominence, and it's a great thing for the incentive. It shows a lot of vision on the part of the founders to say, 'We can create this and people will come.' It's a cool, cultural thing but also has a huge economic impact on your region there.

BN: So get to the cool stuff. Tell us some movies being filmed in Michigan.

CJ: At this very moment we've got so many … let's see … we have the Transformers sequel, Harold and Kumar 3, a Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore movie called LOL, Scream 4 with Courtney Cox and David Arquette, we have The Double with Richard Gere, Machine Gun Preacher, and then Return to the Hiding Place, which will be filming in Manistee. We also have our first major network series called Detroit 187 that will be produced in Detroit for a minimum of six months. But I have to say, I always tell producers they have to see the whole state; there's nothing like it in the world. And now many of them are taking me up on that.