Michigan's growing film industry boosts Ann Arbor hotel occupancy
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.