06 November 2010

An Open Blog Post to Michigan Governor-Elect Rick Snyder

Dear Governor-elect Snyder,

Congratulations on your win in this year's election. I sincerely hope you and your colleagues are able to bring new vitality and growth to Michigan and take it back to the path of economic recovery.

I write you regarding a highly debated part of that economic recovery, one that you have recently criticized: Michigan's film tax credits. You are probably sick of hearing about them, considering they get more attention than is likely merited from their place in the overall scheme of things. But I promise to deliver an argument in their favor that you have not heard before, and one that may even help you get re-elected in the future.

First, some background on me: I am an independent filmmaker and screenwriter originally from Michigan but currently living in New York City. Yes, I am part of the "Brain Drain" of people, young and old, leaving the state for opportunities elsewhere. The extent of this problem is dramatically illustrated for me, not only by my own example, but my travels in and around the country. I have discovered that no matter where I go, I am bound to run into somebody from Michigan who now lives elsewhere.

This is not something I am proud of or enjoy. Despite living in New York City, I maintain close ties to Michigan. The bulk of my friends and family are still there, I frequently return on holidays and vacations, and I work closely with a number of filmmaking collaborators who live in the state. These are not studio titans with multimillion dollar budgets between them. They are low-budget, self-financed artists carving out their own niche in the industry. They are true Michigan pioneers who have made their homes there and will continue to do what they do best.

I admit: I love living in New York City. It is a city that seems custom-built and tailored to fit my personality. At the same time, I still consider myself a Michigander and dream about moving back to produce films full-time. As much as my colleagues and I have been able to do despite a lack of funds, we rely on our day jobs to make ends meet; if moving back to Michigan meant I could find the opportunities and investments that would make me a true independent filmmaker, I would do it in a heartbeat.

The problem, of course, is that there is still not yet enough of an industry there for me to do that. The film tax credits have drawn in many out-of-state production companies and filmmakers, but have not done as much for local producers. I think that, given time, this will change, and as more money comes to the state from outside, Michigan filmmakers will start to see their budgets grow exponentially.

But that is an argument you have heard. I promised to come at this from a new angle, and I intend to deliver on my promise.

Here, in summary, is the reason why I think you should keep the film tax credits just the way they are: Facebook status updates.

I am completely serious.

Given your previous experience in the computer industry, and its ubiquity in modern day life, I am sure you are familiar with Facebook, so I will not explain what it is or what status updates are. You know how they work.

One thing you may have noticed in recent months, then, is the regularity with which your Michigan friends post status updates about meeting or seeing celebrities all around the state. With the influx of film productions to Michigan, more stars have been out and about in our cities, giving people the chance to be star struck and have an encounter they can tell their friends about. Hugh Jackman has shown up in my Facebook feed quite frequently. Ray Liotta was recently spotted in Detroit. David Arquette seems to have fallen in love with Michigan.

Governor-elect Snyder, I am here to tell you that the love affair is mutual. Like any other people in the world, Michiganders love celebrities, and we love them coming to our state. We love it when they turn out to be down-to-earth and relatable ("Wow! They're just like us!"), we love it when they show up at a bar or concert event we go to ("Wow! They like the same music we do!"), we even love it when they are cold, distant, and unfriendly ("Wow! They gave me a great story to tell!"). Celebrities are celebrities for a reason. They have a je ne sais quoi that translates into enthusiasm and good feelings for the state. "If they're here, there must be something cool going on!" we think (and with good reason). In fact, I believe they are why the film tax credits receive so much undue attention.

Yes, it is silly and frivolous. Yes, it is something akin to propaganda. But as a filmmaker, I can tell you: People like silly and frivolous. Propaganda works. Look to the success of the Transformers film franchise (partially shot in Michigan) as an example of both.

Can the film tax credits be altered to better benefit the state? I am sure they can. But doing so might might turn away the film industry. If production companies can get a better deal somewhere else, they will go there. If you must somehow change the tax incentives, I ask you to do so cautiously, and to err on the side of the filmmakers. Because if they leave, so will the celebrities.

And then Michiganders will not be happy. It will change their lives in an active, demonstrable way. It will take away something they love, and they will feel the loss. In their lives and on their Facebook pages. And when the next election comes around, they will remember who took their celebrities away.

I do not intend this post as a joke. I intend it as well-meaning advice. Whatever you do, keep the celebrities on your side. Despite the stereotypes, they are not, overall, bad people, and they serve a useful function in our society. You would be wise to tap into their power.

Sincerely Yours,

Justin Muschong

1 comment: