film incentives 2015 – my letter to lawmakers

Recently, the Michigan legislature is once again attempting to destroy the film incentives that have kept me and thousands of others here in Michigan, earned us a good living, and has brought heaps of good press and publicity to a state that is usually the butt end of jokes. Take a look, I urge you to look up your senator or congressman and write letters in support of the film incentive.

Dear Michigan Lawmaker,

My name is Geoff George and I am writing to express my profound disappointment in the attempted elimination of the film incentives, and urge you and your colleagues to vote against HB 4122.

I graduated from the University of Michigan in 2008, with plans to move to Los Angeles after finishing school. Instead, the film incentives passed in Michigan and I decided to stay here to start my career. I moved to downtown Detroit and began working my way up the ranks in the film industry. Today, I have worked on over 10 feature films and have sustained a successful career as a cinematographer. At 28 years old I have bought a building in Detroit’s Eastern Market district and plan to live there. I have also additionally been working with an investor to start a film technologies company in Detroit, specializing in development of 3D and interactive filmmaking.

Now that the film incentives are being eliminated, those dreams have been totally crushed. My investor is now doubtful that a film technologies company would be successful here without a thriving film industry, and if I am unable to support myself I will have to leave Detroit, sell my building, and start all over in another state. Many thousands of dollars, possibly millions, in business investments and neighborhood improvements will vanish, and I will bring that money to another state where film workers are appreciated, and where lawmakers understand that film incentives help the local economy. I love Michigan and I love the city of Detroit, and the idea of leaving absolutely devastates me. But it is a reality if this bill passes. Can Lansing afford stand by and watch thousands of film workers leave this state en masse, while doing nothing to keep us here? This sends a strong signal that our jobs are not taken seriously, that our jobs are not considered ‘real’ jobs. I take real offense to that.

I implore you to consider the untold story behind the numbers that have been promoted by the proponents of this bill. Admittedly it is difficult to ‘follow the money’ when a film a production is in town. With multiple vendors and personnel, it can be hard to see where that money is going. But rest assured it is going into the hands of Michigan workers like myself, and the thousands of others who have worked with me on film productions. The film incentive is often mistaken as lining the pockets of Hollywood producers and actors. But the truth is far from that. The truth is that the film incentives have kept many young people like myself here in this state, paying taxes, buying property, and making investments. These are young folks that would otherwise have brought their expertise and tax dollars to California, Louisiana, or Georgia. These effects are hard to track, and Bureau of Labor Statistics is using a flawed logic to measure film jobs. While each individual film provides a temporary job, working on two or three movies a year can earn you a very decent living. These might not count as ‘permanent’ jobs, but I certainly have been busy with a film job every week of the year while the film incentives have been in place. I have been able to earn a steady middle class income, and my income has even increased each year. That sure seems like a permanent job to me. Staying in this state permanently, working every week of the year, paying taxes—what else does my job need to entail for you to consider it permanent?

In addition, the positive impact for Michigan far outweighs any small monetary loss. Michigan spends millions on well-funded Pure Michigan campaign which has been successful in promoting the state, and one could argue that the film incentives have done the same or even more in that regard. I have been lucky to work with countless actors and directors, and even given tours of the city to Quentin Tarantino, famous actors, and producers, who all fell in love with our state. Zack Snyder, director of Batman vs Superman, has expressed publicly his love for Detroit and his desire to return and finish the series of films here. These high-profile people promoting Michigan and bringing their business to the state goes much further than any ad campaign.

I urge you to consider the young people who are graduating from colleges across the state. I have never seen a state program more effective at curbing the ‘brain drain’ that plagues Michigan. Myself and countless other young folks have decided to stay in Michigan and make a career here, despite the sunnier skies in California.

There are other effects if the film incentives are eliminated. The state will be on the hook for $18 million in pension payments that were used as leverage to build the film studio project in Pontiac. This amount could be easily covered by another few years of film productions coming to the studio. Additionally, we have made promises to Michigan workers and filmmakers looking to return to Michigan in the coming years. As you well know, the film incentives were extended for 7 years just a few months ago. Eliminating them now not only breaks a promise to Michigan workers, but sends a signal that Michigan is not a good place to invest, where fickle lawmakers are changing the laws every few months. Finally, the incentives are just a small part of the state budget and we must look at this cost similar to the Pure Michigan campaign. The films shot here are a huge tourism and publicity draw for the state.

I understand the state is in a difficult financial position. May I make some suggestions for the film incentives to make them more viable, and less of a drain on the state? First off, increase the requirement to hire Michigan workers. Eliminate any incentives on actor salaries above $1 million, so the money is going to raw production expenses & crew only. Lower the rebate amount to 15%-25% of the production’s budget. Even a small incentive is better than none at all. Pulling the rug from under the film industry has absolutely destroyed investors’ and filmmakers’ confidence in Michigan. Lowering the incentive over time, without eliminating it entirely, would ease the burden on the state, while at the same time keeping the workers in Michigan and maintaining and investments that are currently being made and considered for the future.

I cannot urge you enough to support young Michigan workers such as myself. Please vote “no” on HB4122. Please take our jobs seriously. Please help me stay in Michigan, the state I love, my home. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Geoff George

Click Here to find your elected officials. Please write! The timing is very urgent!

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