Great Lakes, greater competition

Michigan incentive, Detroit film office join battle for prod'n

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 percent 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, any 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 $3.5 million into the state last year.

When it comes to Illinois vs. Michigan, really means 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 in Santa Monica 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 are 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.