'The time is now': Michigan's film industry urges return of film incentives

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Posted at 10:31 PM, Apr 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-22 16:55:37-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Could Michigan become the center of the film industry once again? That’s what local industry leaders in the state are hoping for, urging legislators to bring back Michigan’s film incentives.

Outside Al Wissam clothing store in Dearborn on Thursday, the excitement and a set was building. Crews worked through the day getting ready to shoot a scene for season 2 of the show "BMF."

“It’s an honor. We’re honored and blessed to have Starz use our location,” said Nizar Souwaidan, son of Al Wissam's owner.

The show airs on Starz and is produced by 50 Cent, telling the real life story of the Detroit-based Black Mafia Family.

"It means a lot to be honest with you," Souwaidan said about having his store featured in the show. "It means a lot for the city of Detroit.”

Souwaidan and his family aren’t the only ones who feel that way. Over in Farmington Hills, roughly 300 local industry workers met to discuss bringing back film incentives to Michigan.

“Basically what that means for our state is attracting talent that we lost the first time around,” said Jonathan Braue, co-founder of local video company Woodward Original.

When Michigan first launched tax incentives for filmmakers in 2008, it attracted big budget movies like "Red Dawn," "Batman," "Transformers" and "Vanishing on 7th Street," a movie that was filmed inside the WXYZ studios.

Since those incentives went away, so did the movies and jobs.

“In that time period, it's been rough to be completely honest,” Braue said. "We stayed because we just love producing film here and we don’t want to go anywhere.”

“Film incentives are very successful in bringing in jobs," said Alexander Page, legislation chair for the Michigan Film Industry Association. "We know that, for example, some of the states who’ve recently had it have seen 10% to 20% increase in the labor force of the film.”

Page and MiFIA helped draft bipartisan bills in the state House and Senate to revamp the film tax incentives. Those bills are now in committee, and Page says they have a focus on Michigan vendors and workers.

“The last incentive was very good for what it was doing, bringing jobs in. But it wasn’t good for the long term,” Page said. "What we’re looking for is very fiscally responsible and a modest tax credit we give out over 10 years and have the program grow over time slowly.”

Page says 40 other states have film incentives and without it, Michigan will struggle to compete, losing out on exposure, jobs and a larger economic opportunity.

“There's so many different jobs that film encapsulates and to attract that sort of work back here is only going to bring back more jobs,” Braue said.

“It's an incredible opportunity for the state," added MiFIA First Vice Chairman Brain Kelly. "I believe the time is now for this.”

This town hall was one of three MiFIA is holding across the state. Next month, they’ll be holding the same event in Traverse City and Grand Rapids.