With the spotlight on Michigan’s legislature to balance the state’s budget, several state lawmakers are pondering whether to lower the curtain on the state’s tax incentives for movies shot here.

The state offers filmmakers a 40 percent tax credit if they spend more than $50,000 on production costs in the state and an additional 2 percent if they film in select Michigan cities, including Ann Arbor. It’s this benefit that has lured stars like Clint Eastwood and Drew Barrymore to film their movies in Michigan.

However, with a $2.8 billion budget deficit for the 2010 fiscal year, Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Republican-controlled state Senate have both issued proposals to reduce the tax credit.

Granholm’s plan would lower the incentive to 37 percent of production costs.
Republicans, meanwhile, would like to cut the credit to 35 percent and cap the total rebate for all films at $50 million annually. In 2008, the state paid out $32 million to filmmakers.

Lee Doyle, director of the University’s Film Office, said the tax credit has spurred filming on campus.

“Before the tax incentive we saw maybe one script every five years, and this year we’ve reviewed 20,” Doyle said.

Prior to the implementation of the Michigan film tax credit, the University did not have a film office. The office was created last spring to handle the influx of requests to produce movies on campus.

Two films have already been filmed on campus in 2009 — “Betty Anne Waters” featuring Hilary Swank, and “Trivial Pursuits,” which was written and directed by University alum Chris Farah.

Despite the current success of the film office, Doyle said she thinks the University will see a drop in the number of movies filmed on campus if any of the proposed cuts to the Michigan film tax credit are approved.

However, Doyle said even if the number of mainstream movies made in Ann Arbor drops, she believes documentaries and newscasts will continue to film here.

“We always have a steady stream of activity like that, but in terms of commercial films, though, that will diminish,” she said.

Doyle said even without an influx of Hollywood celebrities arriving on campus to make their movies, the University will continue to operate its film office because one of its main goals is to help revitalize Southeastern Michigan’s failing economy.

“We are here as a service, not as a profit-generating office,” Doyle said. “We’re here as a service to that economic development stimulus project that’s going on in the state.”

Doyle said the Film Office is interested in continuing its efforts to promote the University as a way of attracting filmmakers to Ann Arbor.

“We’re interested in just spotlighting the University whenever possible,” Doyle said. “To make the University shine and having it star in movies is not a bad thing.”

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