IF WE REBATE IT, MOVIES WILL COME

By now, some of you know that tonight, a movie of my book “For One More Day,” produced by Oprah Winfrey, will air on ABC. People this past week have been saying congratulations. And this is indeed a lucky, wonderful feeling. But I have one regret.

I wish it had been made in Michigan.

It wasn’t, as many films are not, largely because of money. The film is set in a small town, with modest houses and baseball fields, and we certainly have those in Michigan. The producers were not against the idea.

But in the end, the film was shot in Connecticut. That state offers a big tax rebate to filmmakers, about 30%. As a result, one report estimated Connecticut’s film and TV business grew from $1 million in the first six months of 2006 to more than $300 million since.

Similar acts have been passed in states such as Louisiana and New Mexico, and you’d not believe how many movies are shooting there.

Meanwhile, Michigan sits largely untapped. Mike Binder, the wonderful filmmaker behind such movies as “Reign Over Me” and “The Upside of Anger,” is from Michigan. He loves Michigan. He has an upcoming movie called “The Emperor of Michigan.”

He may have to shoot it in Connecticut.

The war of the states

A few weeks ago, Binder and I spoke before the Legislature about our frustrations in trying to bring film work home. Many were shocked to learn how movie producers work. The conversation goes like this:

“What kind of rebate does Michigan offer?”

“Well, it’s not as good as (xxxxxxx).”

“Sorry. We’re going to (xxxxxxx).”

Now, I can think of a dozen reasons why films should be interested in Michigan, including our varied landscape – from hot urban to frozen wilderness – and low cost of housing.

But I can think of 100 reasons why Michigan should be interested in films. One, money. Two, it’s a clean business – no smokestacks. Three, it’s a huge growth industry, with digital and Web-based production increasing. Four, it needs young, creative minds, the kind leaving our state every day. Five, movies can be good for image – and business. Look at Mackinac Island and “Somewhere in Time.”

A few years ago, New Mexico, when it came to films, was as barren as its landscape. Then its new governor got aggressive, a 25% rebate was passed, and, according to Variety, not only did the state see film revenue jump from almost nothing to $428 million in 2006, but a 26-acre soundstage has been built. Support businesses are opening there. Money. Jobs.

If New Mexico, why not us?

And roll the credits …

If Michigan could pass an aggressive rebate program – one that would lead the nation – movies and TV would flock here overnight. We thought we passed a decent rebate early this year. But it wasn’t competitive with top states (ours is a max of 20%). As a result, only two major movies partly shot here this year, “that brought in about $4 million,” said Janet Lockwood, director of the Michigan Film Office.

That’s nowhere near what it could be. You can argue that we shouldn’t give breaks to moviemakers if we don’t give them to everyone. You may be right. But they’re going to get them somewhere. And they’ll go where that is. And a portion of something is better than a whole bucket of nothing, right?

Until recently, many movies were shot in Canada because of rebates and the exchange rate. My previous book/movie, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” was shot in Vancouver, and many crewmembers told me they’d moved there “to get into the film business.”

Well, if they can move there, they can move here – where the exchange rate now favors us.

Understand, this does not financially benefit people like Binder, Jeff Daniels or myself. We’re paid the same either way. But with so many film-related Michiganders who prefer to bring the work back home, doesn’t it make sense to capitalize on that?

Our lawmakers are considering action. If it had been in place, the movie tonight on ABC – and the names in the credits – might have looked more familiar. Meanwhile, I am scheduled to have a movie shot next year. It’s about a homeless man, a casino and the Detroit River.

I hope we don’t make it in Albuquerque.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. He will sign books at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Barnes & Noble in Rochester Hill and 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Borders in Farmington Hills. .

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