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Posted on Sun, Nov 15, 2009 : 5:47 a.m.

Michigan's growing film industry boosts Ann Arbor hotel occupancy

By Nathan Bomey

The Ann Arbor region’s hotel industry sold 19,000 room nights to the film industry so far in 2009, according to new data from the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

That film business is equivalent to renting an entire 150-room hotel for four months.

The increase in film activity in the Ann Arbor area - a direct result of aggressive state film incentives approved last year - has led to direct economic benefits for the region beyond just the lodging industry.

The film industry's growing reach  into the local community can also help Michigan attract and retain talent, film incentives advocates said Thursday at a panel session organized by the Ann Arbor Ad Club

“I don’t know anyone else in the state of Michigan that’s documenting those hotel nights like we are,” AAACVB account executive Kay Seaser said.

Film production companies typically stay in the area for 2 to 4 months, Seaser said, and the region has hosted seven films this year.

“The phone’s ringing every week,” she said.

The boost comes as the Ann Arbor hotel industry's occupancy rate slipped to 60 percent in 2008, down from 63 percent in 2007.

Activity in Michigan’s movie industry surged after the state Legislature in April 2008 approved a 42 percent tax rebate for productions that take place here.

Film companies in 2008 spent $65.4 million in Michigan and employed some 2,922 local workers, according to a study by Michigan State University’s Center for Economic Analysis.

If the tax rebate stays in place, film companies will spend $187.7 million in Michigan in 2012, MSU economists projected. The Ann Arbor region has played host to parts of various productions, including the films “Whip It” and “Youth In Revolt.”

Jim Burnstein, a film screenwriter and screenwriting coordinator at the University of Michigan’s Department of Screen Arts & Cultures, said film companies wouldn’t come to the state without the incentive.

“This baby is working," he said.

The film incentives, however, have come under fire as Michigan faces major budget problems. Kathy Hoekstra, communications specialist for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, wrote that the MSU study is “flawed.” After a controversy over Iowa’s film incentives program, Hoekstra called for the state-funded Michigan Film Office to release more details about Michigan’s incentives.

Burnstein said the film incentives carry additional benefits that are hard to measure. He said the film industry’s growth in Michigan helps to attract and retain talented young people. Until the incentive was passed, his U-M students routinely left Michigan after graduating, he said.

“It’s not just the jobs we’re creating, it’s the taxpayers we’re losing," he said. “Pass the incentive law, that changed."

Burnstein, meanwhile, said he's lobbying U-M to open its screenwriting program to the public through an extension education program.

"I would love to be able to let screenwriters work on our program in the summer, teach you guys how to do it," he said.

U-M, for its part, in 2008 formed the U-M Film Office, which has helped 13 projects film on campus. The latest is "Friends" star David Schwimmer's "Trust," which will film at U-M's North Campus Research Complex, the 174-acre ex-Pfizer site in northern Ann Arbor.

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter.


James Hohman

Fri, Dec 11, 2009 : 8:48 a.m.

The film incentive has not been responsible for an economic boom in Ann Arbor. Since being implemented, the city lost over 4000 jobs (about 6.7 percent of all jobs in the city) and its unemployment rate increased from 5.0 to 9.4 percent. There are real economic issues that the state faces and the film incentive only works to cover them up.

Duane Swanson

Wed, Nov 18, 2009 : 5:13 p.m.

I am happy to see that the Ann Arbor Convention Bureau is keeping such an accurate account of the roomnights that have been generated by the film incentives. If every report on the film industry had the same diligence as the AAACVB has put into their analysis it would be very easy to prove to people like Kathy Hoekstra, Nancy Cassis, and other naysayers that their arguments are severly flawed. Kathy Hoekstra from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy has been on the wrong side of this argument forever and says that the MSU report is flawed. The only problem with the MSU study is that they didn't take into consideration, that the Nancy Cassis' and Kathy Hoekstras would try to derail the initiative within 12 months of the bill being passed. Ann Arbor would have had 30,000 roomnights so far this year from this incentive if these people had done their diligence, seen this stimulus package for what it really can do for our communities and kept their errant thoughts to themselves. Leave the Film Incentive alone so that those of us who work for a living in the real business world, can keep our employees off the state's unemployment lines! Duane Swanson Somerset Inn - Troy

Chad Wiebesick

Mon, Nov 16, 2009 : 9:38 a.m.

The Michigan film industry is a boost to civic pride and morale for our state. According to the Ann Arbor Chamber, the 4-day shooting of "Youth in Revolt" last summer in Ann Arbor generated nearly $250,000 in revenue for local businesses. The Ann Arbor Ad Club ( is hosting an upcoming event about another growing Michigan industry - the microbrewry industry. Our state has the 5th most number of brewpubs and microbrewries in the nation. Chad Wiebesick President, Ann Arbor Ad Club


Sun, Nov 15, 2009 : 9:22 a.m.

Just imaging the types of business and industry we could attract to Michigan if we removed or reduced our imposing business taxes. It seems to be working for the major film industry.