Is Detroit Becoming the New Hollywood?

September 20, 2010
By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Over the past two years more than 100 film and television productions have chosen Michigan as their preferred location in which to shoot.

Why? It’s simple economics; the kind that Congress could use a quick lesson in. Simply put, tax rebates attract business and jobs.

Michigan’s film incentive program offers up to a 42 percent tax rebate on any in-state expenses.

As a result, entertainment companies have spent nearly $350 million this year in the Wolverine State and are likely to pay out $650 million by the year’s end. Most of the productions, around 80 percent, take place in the city of Detroit.

In July 2010, more than 15 percent of the people in the Detroit metropolitan area were without a paycheck, so entertainment jobs are a godsend, especially the approximately 7,000 new production gigs.

Signs of the city’s Tinseltown transformation are everywhere. The old Michigan Central Station is now full of technicians, extras, and actors working on sets for the “Transformers 3” movie and the HBO television show, “Hung.”

A former Chrysler distribution center serves as a soundstage for ABC's new crime drama, “Detroit 1-8-7.”

Current or soon-to-be filmmaking in the Motor City include a Hilary Swank movie, “Conviction,” a Richard Gere flick, “The Double,” a Sigourney Weaver comedy, “Vamps,” a Robert De Niro-Edward Norton-Milla Jovovich film, “Stone,” “Harold and Kumar 3,” and “Hostel: Part III.”

A $76 million studio is under construction on a 22-acre site in nearby Pontiac, Mich., for an L.A. company that is expanding into Detroit — Raleigh Studios.

These projects are not brought to you by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

M. Night Shyamalan, on the other hand, may be looking for a movie bailout.

In this week’s box-office breakdown, “The Town” and “Easy A” beat Shyamalan’s “Devil.”

“Easy A” was expected to come out ahead of “The Town” in the weekend box-office battle.

Instead Ben Affleck’s crime thriller nabbed a stronger than expected $23.8 million in ticket sales.

“The Town,” which Affleck stars in and directs, appeals to an adult audience, and believe it or not, that crowd was larger than the one full of teenagers flocking to “Easy A.”

It didn’t hurt that critics loved “The Town.” Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures put up $37 million for the film.

“Easy A,” a comedic twist on the classic novel “The Scarlet Letter,” came in second, with about $18 million in box-office take.

Distributor Sony Pictures and its Screen Gems genre label were pumped. According to Sony, the studio was estimating about $15 million, and the movie had a production cost of about $8 million.

“Devil,” a horror entry, which was produced by Shyamalan and distributed by Universal Pictures, finished third, with a lower than expected $12.6 million.

Universal refused to show the movie to the press and also declined to comment on the blackout.

It could be that the studio wanted to guard against blowback from the tarnished image of Shyamalan, who produced and wrote the story for the “Devil” flick.

The movie is about a group of people who are stuck in an elevator with Satan. Not surprisingly, the majority of critics slammed it as trite and dull, and it appears as though audiences didn’t think much of it either.

Too bad that Universal paid Media Rights Capital $27 million for the distribution rights for “Devil.”