Swatch offers many shades of locations

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The Location Swatch, an innovative way to compile and list film-friendly properties in the Los Angeles area, is causing something of a stir.

The swatch, from locations agency Image Locations, is like a swatch of fabric or paint you can find at a Home Depot but with well-known homes and landmarks that are classified and color-coded into 25 categories including retro, Americana, garden and mansion. It also lists permit info for beaches and local communities.

Image Locations president Paul Kim said that a Midwest film commission tried to replicate the swatch, which has a pending patent and is copyrighted. Even the term is trademarked. "We had to send a cease and desist letter," Kim said.

The idea for the Location Swatch came about as a response to hard-to-fill and vague requests.

"People would tell us, 'We need a very over-the-top mansion.' Sometimes we wouldn't know what that meant," Kim said. "So what we would do was send jpegs of certain mansions and they would say, 'That is not what we meant.' So I thought, why don't we put all of our top locations in one place, like a swatch, so you could fan it out and you could tell us which direction to go."

The swatch is made for location and entertainment professionals and is small enough to fit into a laptop bag or glove box. However, because it looks like a small rectangular book, it has an appeal to art and architecture aficionados; it's actually offered for sale at such places as LACMA, ArcLight theaters and Samy's Camera.

Image Locations plans to update the swatch annually and hopes to expand the concept for locations listings in other cities, as well as listing props.

Great Lakes, greater competition
Michigan incentive, Detroit film office join battle for production

Is a battle for the Great Lakes under way?

Chicago and Illinois historically have been the entertainment and production centers of that region. Last year, Illinois' revenue from production soared to $155 million, an all-time high for the state. It came on the heels of new film incentives and marked a decisive comeback from 2006's low of $60 million.

"It was a nice rebound across the board in terms of the types and the amount of production," said Richard Moskal, director of the Chicago Film Office. Eighty% to 90% of Illinois' production takes place in the Windy City and its surroundings.

But being on top means you have to watch out for the other guy. And the other guy, in this case Michigan, sure had something up its sleeve. The state this month unveiled an unheard of 40% incentive to film and television projects. If filming occurs in certain core cities, that figure rises to 42%.

Michigan, which has the highest unemployment rate in the U.S. at 7.2%, hopes to jump-start its entertainment industry, or in its case, an entertainment industry. Its contributions to music notwithstanding, the last major movie to have shot in the state was 2002's "8 Mile," though Michael Bay did use the unique-looking former train station at Michigan Train Depot for "The Island" and "Transformers." Film and TV production barely brought in $3.5 million into the state last year.

When it comes to Illinois vs. Michigan, it means it's Chicago vs. Detroit. This week, the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau launched Film Detroit, an office to market the metro region as the state's prime location for production. The soldiers of Film Detroit will hit film festivals, studios and this weekend's Association of Film Commissioners International conference to promote the city. It also will help in scouting locations and serve as a liaison among local crews, hotels, governments and property owners.

Michigan pooh-poohs any competition.

"For years, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota have exhibited everywhere together under the banner 'Great Lakes, Great Locations,' so there is a special tie between us," said Janet Lockwood of the Michigan Film Office. "I'm glad Wisconsin has an incentive, I'm delighted I have a big incentive, and I hope Illinois gets theirs renewed. It's good for the business."

"But we are definitely going after the business," she added.

Still, Chicago is not worried.

"There will always be a cheaper destination out here, there's always going to be a brand new production center that is better subsidized and incentivized," Moskal said. "You can get a little dizzy trying to keep up with all the offerings."

Moskal added that incentives really were only part of an overall package that make a destination attractive. Crew base, vendors, and locations are all part of the equation.

Wisconsin, Illinois' western neighbor, recently enacted incentives that offer a 25% tax credit. It attracted Michael Mann's "Public Enemies," but the production remained mostly in Illinois and had to import Chicago crew members.

"Producers are still going to turn to the closest production center, and this is us," Moskal said.

But not for long if companies like TicTock Studios have their way. The newly founded company recently bought a Reddi-Wip factory in Holland, Mich., two weeks after it closed down and is turning the 76,000-square-foot space into soundstages. It also is offering re-training to the laid off workers.

"I talked to a lady whose been punching the clock for 35 years and was telling her how she is going to work in the movies, and you see this light go on in her," TicTock CEO Hopwood DuPree said. "With the state of the economy here, I think this legislation offers a lot of hope to people."
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