Snyder’s Film Incentive Cut-Back Plan

REGION – Governor Rick Snyder's plan to curtail the film tax incentives as part of his plan to balance the state's budget has met with resistance from the film community, including interests in Traverse City.

"I am really disappointed," says Bill Latka of Rivet Entertainment. After building a career in Hollywood, Latka took advantage of the incentives to move back to his TC hometown and open a studio. Now he's uncertain whether that was a good idea and whether or not he will be able to maintain what he's started.

"[Trimming the incentive] is not a wise move," he says. "The industry had been growing at a really fast rate, and I think it made a positive impact on the state."

Wayne Schmidt, state representative for the district that includes Traverse City, says he remains open to the possibility of committing some investment in the industry, though he's unsure just how much.

"We've certainly had some successes," he says. "But everything [in the budget] is being looked at. I'm not in favor of wiping it out. The question is: What does create jobs on a year-round basis."

Latka says that perspective is not necessarily the right way to look at the industry, which tends to move in a stop-and-start motion. Writers, producers, actors, carpenters, set-builders, and all the others needed to mount a production work on a per-project basis – not a 9-to-5 schedule 52 weeks a year.

"It's not people traditionally employed. They make money, and then go. In Los Angeles there is a huge pool of freelancers that work project to project," Latka says.

Longtime Traverse City filmmaker Rich Brauer offers a slightly different take than Latka or others who set up shot due in part to the incentive program.

"I've been around three decades – well before the incentives," Brauer says. "I was able to make one movie a year with the other stuff I do [commercials, industrial work, and working for others]. Add the incentives, and theoretically I could double or triple that. That offers creative types more experience and creates an industry.

"Now, I'm not going to go away. But [cutting back the incentives] is incredibly short-sighted. It sends a really bad signal to people in Los Angeles who really want to come here."

Latka and Brauer point to investments in other parts of the state, particularly in the Detroit area, where Raleigh Studios just opened its $85 million studio complex in what was once home to the General Motors Centerpoint Business Campus in Pontiac. "That's a huge tax base – what are they going to do now?" Brauer asks.

They also note a study by Ernst and Young that suggests that for every dollar spent by the state, the industry spends $6 in return. And that doesn't include the positive press that accompanies movie making.

Brauer suggests there are ways in which the state could cut back that would not drastically curtail the industry, and might even help the state build it. One of the provisions gives a 30 percent break to the studios regardless of whom they hire. He says that part could be drastically reduced or eliminated if they bring in talent from outside the state, but kept in place if they hire Michigan residents. That would put more residents to work, rather than giving tax breaks to transients.

"I'm a taxpayer, and I want to see the budget balanced. I applaud Snyder for that. But you can't treat all of the incentives the same. He has to realize that," Brauer said.

"In Chicago, it took ten years (to build the film industry). In Louisiana, it took six years," he says. "It's like a seedling. You've got to let it grow. You don't want to pull it out of the ground just when it gets a couple leaves." BN