Local filmmakers chronicle rise and fall of Michigan Film Tax Incentive

By: Chris Jackett | Royal Oak Review | Published September 12, 2012

ROYAL OAK — When the Michigan Film Tax Incentive was in full effect, life was good for several of the creative-minded residents of the state. But times have changed.

Siblings Chris-Teena Constas and George Constas tell the story of the state’s film industry with a recently released documentary called “Jane of All Trades” that follows the past four years of highs and lows for Michigan filmmakers.

“Basically I started documenting for journal purposes (during) my transition moving back to Michigan from Chicago,” said Chris-Teena, a Hamtramck resident. “I continued recording on and off for three years, and the incentives got the use and I saw how it affected me and other people in the industry.”

Typically a location manager for films, Chris-Teena served as director for “Jane of All Trades,” which was her first documentary.

“The interesting part would happen when Teena would go around and ask people, ‘What is your situation?’ We kind of had an arc of these,” said George, a Royal Oak resident. “We kind of accidentally have this storyline of folks and different classes of people from older auto workers (to) newer graduates. We were in this unique situation where we had a bunch of people’s stories from the beginning to now.”

From 2008-11, the Constas siblings said 150 movies were made in Michigan. At first mention of the changes to the film incentives, all bets were off.

“When the incentives got proposed to be reduced by the governor, there were 10 movies that left the state within the first week,” Chris-Teena said. “When there’s only three movies being approved in 17 months, it’s a devastating blow to a lot of people. I didn’t come across a single person that agreed this incentive should have been reduced.”

In October 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder capped the Michigan Film Tax Incentive at $25 million during the state’s budget planning. There had previously been no limit, and in 2010 the state approved $115 million in rebates. At the time Snyder signed the new limit and a performance dashboard into law, he said the changes were to ensure the incentive creates jobs.

Though films including “Gran Torino,” “Scream 4,” “Real Steel,” and “The Five-Year Engagement,” and television shows such as “Hung,” “Detroit 1-8-7,” “Hardcore Pawn” and “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” all filmed in Michigan in recent years, there have been few additions in the past year.

“There were a lot of folks in each position,” George said. “Now that there’s only two or three shows in Michigan, a lot of people are moving out of state. It’s the worst demographics. It’s the people who you want there the most that are hungry and creative.”

The Constas siblings said the available tax incentives are up to $50 million, but $100 million is needed to bring big films back into town.

“One hundred million dollars is enough to get projects in town,” George said. “The key is the stability, is them saying it’s in place for five to 10 years. Whatever is in place, it has to be secure enough (for people to invest).

“Last week I was taking around a very prominent person who was interested in filming here. They filmed here before and had another project and decided to look into what was going on here. There will be names attached that people know. I think it’d be a good film for Michigan to have.”

Chris-Teena said they’re hoping for a positive change in October, but are currently focusing on showing people the 42-minute “Jane of All Trades” documentary. After a premier viewing for friends and family, the siblings showed off the film Sept. 7 at the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak. The film has also been accepted into both the Jackson Film Festival Sept. 29 and the Blue Water Film Festival Oct. 6 in Port Huron.

They also said they purchased a recreational vehicle two weeks ago and plan to drive around the state showing the film for free at bars, theaters and using a projector and the side of the RV, if it helps get their message across.

“I’m focused on getting word on the film out right now,” Chris-Teena said. “We just need to keep it alive. I want to bring the awareness.

“It brought so much hope and excitement to people that something was happening. The eyes of the world were on us.”

For more information on the film, to make donations or view the trailer, visit www.janeofalltradesthemovie.com.