Michigan Film Office has $58 million in grants to dole out

It’s a new year for the Michigan Film Office, which has $58 million in grants available for qualifying film and digital media projects.

That’s $33 million more than was allotted in the just-completed fiscal year. The question now: How interested will Hollywood be?

That amount is based on the $50 million approved for the state’s film incentives program for fiscal 2013, plus an $8-million rollover from fiscal 2012 that wasn’t approved for any projects.

So far in 2012, 11 projects have been given the OK for roughly $17 million in incentives.

It’s been a tough stretch for the local film industry as the brisk flow of projects from Hollywood and elsewhere has slowed considerably under the state’s revamped incentives program, which went from being uncapped to a $25-million cap for fiscal 2012. That amounted to less than a quarter of the $115 million awarded in tax credits in 2010.

A few high-profile projects, including “Black Sky,” a tornado thriller, and the AMC Detroit cop pilot “Low Winter Sun,” have come to metro Detroit for shooting this year. But momentum has slowed, and some potential projects have shifted gears.

Eminem’s boxing movie, “Southpaw,” applied for the incentives and anticipated spending $30.7 million here, but the request was withdrawn because of the rapper’s decision to focus on his music instead.

The latest news is that an all-star movie that some have called “The Hangover” for seniors is no longer considering filming in Michigan.

“Last Vegas,” a buddy comedy with Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro and Morgan Freeman, has withdrawn its application for $4.6 million in incentives on nearly $15.4 million of anticipated spending, according to the Michigan Film Office.

The movie, which is in pre-production, will instead be shooting in Georgia and do some filming in Las Vegas. The main reasons for choosing the Southern state were locations and the fact that CBS Films will likely be shooting two projects back-to-back in Georgia, according to a spokesman for the company behind “Last Vegas.”

The Michigan Film Office says it’s working hard to get the word out to the film industry about the $58 million.

Ads are running in trade publications like the Hollywood Reporter and Variety, and the MFO is looking into a fall trip to Los Angeles, the heart of the industry, according to MFO spokeswoman Michelle Begnoche.

Begnoche described 2012 as a transition year, and said that she doesn’t expect 2013 to finish with any unused funds.

“We fully expect the entire $58 million will be spent,” Begnoche said. “Our phones are already lighting up again. We’re getting a lot of interest in projects looking at spring 2013.”

Begnoche said applications approved by the end of 2012 will be able to lock in current grant percentages, which will adjust slightly after Jan. 1. Most notably, the grant rate on out-of-state-crew spending will be reduced from 25% to 20%.

She also noted that as of this week, the first in fiscal 2013, there is a new, streamlined application for the incentives that will be more user-friendly to studios and producers.

“We’re really optimistic,” Begnoche said. “We know we have some work to do and we’re working very hard to communicate the $58 million to the industry, but we’re getting very good feedback.”

Calvin Hazelbaker of IATSE Local 38, which represents workers employed at film production companies, says it’s great that there is more money now than last year.

“I’m hoping this helps us get our feet back on the ground,” Hazelbaker said. “I’m hoping we get things started on a good foot and the funding is certainly there to get us going.”

  Contact Julie Hinds:  jhinds@freepress.com

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