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Spotlight: Great Lakes

Great Lakes Hold Great Promise For Production

By Mark R. Smith

The Johnny Depp feature, Public Enemies, on location in Crown Point, Indiana.
The Johnny Depp feature, Public Enemies, on location in Crown Point, Indiana.

Traditional manufacturing and industry have been in decline in the states bordering the Great Lakes, but motion picture and television production are doing their best to help pick up the slack with the assistance of savvy film commissions and tax incentive programs.

The Milwaukee Art Museum's eye-catching Santiago Calatrava addition.
The Milwaukee Art Museum’s eye-catching Santiago Calatrava addition.

Wisconsin Hopes for Boost in Funding
Lawmakers in Wisconsin, like those in other states with budget issues, are conservative when dispatching funds. David Fantle understands.

But the board chair for Film Wisconsin also understands the film industry and knows that making a commitment means economic impact. “And the most successful states, they have no cap,” says Fantle. “We originally had a $1.5 million cap, but now it’s $500,000 due to the Gov. Jim Doyle’s veto of the previous amount.”

Film Wisconsin is ready for the next legislative session, though. “We want to modify current legislation to increase the cap,” he notes. “I don’t think having no cap would fly here, but I think the film industry would be satisfied to see a $25 million cap. That’s enough money to operate, but the amount won’t scare the lawmakers.”

RDI Stages Meets Wisconsin Infrastructure Needs
film production in WisconsinMilwaukee beefed up its studio infrastructure, with the launch of RDI Stages (www.rdistages.com) in January 2008 when Janine Sijan Rozina and two partners turned a World War II-era factory into Wisconsin’s first independent soundstages. Stage 1 boasts 4,800 square feet of shooting space with a 45-foot, two-wall hard cyc; Stage 2 offers 1,400 square feet with a 24-foot, single-wall hard cyc. They have hosted numerous commercial clients, including The Wisconsin Lottery, Potawatomi Bingo Casino, The Boston Store, GE Medical and Sterno, as well as the Milwaukee Film Collaborative Cinema initiative that educates high-school students from across the state in production techniques (see photo).

The 1,700-square foot Stage 3 with greenscreen is located in an additional facility nearby that also offers production offices, a pair of editing suites and a recording studio. “We were going to purchase 10,000 more square feet across the street, but that is now on hold since the [production tax] incentives were reduced and capped,” Rozina reports.

Today, the deal is that at least 35 percent of the total budget for the accredited production has to be spent in Wisconsin in order to claim Film Production Services Tax Credits. While there was no cap in the state in 2008, “The governor and his Commerce Department started a PR campaign to discredit the impact of the tax credit,” Fantle reports. “They said that Public Enemies spent $5 million in the state in 2008 and that it rebated the production $4.6 million, so they called the production a wash. But we think that number is bogus.”

According to Fantle, the state says that the incentive money was given to actor Johnny Depp and director Michael Mann. “But credit money was never intended to go to above line people,” he points out. “To this day, we don’t know what the arrangement was between the producers and our Commerce Department.”

The Milwaukee fall skyline looking west from Lake Michigan.
The Milwaukee fall skyline looking west from Lake Michigan.

The Motion Picture Academy of America, on the other hand, estimated that Public Enemies spent $17 million in Wisconsin, with $7.4 million spent on state workers and vendors. “So Film Wisconsin is using that figure on the production spend,” says Fantle, “which equates to a return of $1.63 for every dollar spent.”

Like any state that lacks incentive funding, Wisconsin got only a few nibbles for production this year. Transformers 3, from DreamWorks and Paramount, shot there in July “and dropped about $1 million into the economy, including [using] the Milwaukee Art Museum for two days,” Fantle reports. And the indies No God, No Master with David Strathairn and Feed the Fish with Emmy-winning Wisconsin native Tony Shalhoub shot in the state.

Fantle believes that “the vast majority of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are favorable to restoring the film tax credit to a more meaningful level. We want to emphasize creating jobs, investing in infrastructure and requiring a comprehensive program evaluation after each fiscal year.”

Token Creek Milks Dairy Expo
film production in WisconsinThe gang at Token Creek Mobile Television (www.tokencreek.com) knows the lay of the land and the rolling road nationwide, but one recent gig was down the street from its Madison, Wisconsin home: The World Dairy Expo at the Alliant Energy Center. The company produced cattle-judging contests of Angus, Jersey, Guernsey and other breeds for various Net streams.

The shoots called for “using five cameras simultaneously,” says John Salzwedel, owner and president of Token Creek: three hard Sony BVP-900s and two 950s handheld. Its 40-foot digital truck, the Millennium, was on hand, loaded with Chyron Duet graphics, two four-channel EVS systems, an EVS XFile, a Lance Fast Forward, plus various tape machines.

The event was a departure from Token Creek’s usual sports coverage and part of an uptick in business that has Salzwedel considering building several new trucks.

The Milwaukee fall skyline looking west from Lake Michigan.
The fast-paced police drama, Ride-Along, which debuts mid-season on FOX, is set in Chicago.
Photo by: Peter Sorel/FOX

More Growth on Illinois Horizon
The early numbers are in, and the digits that matter most are these three: $104 million. That’s the economic impact during the first year of tax incentives in Illinois, and it’s a number that has translated to increased optimism as 2010 wraps.

The Illinois Film Tax Credit passed in 2008 and came into effect for calendar 2009. It offers a 30-percent credit of all qualified purchases to producers, as well as whatever tax liability is owed to a film production company.

That 30 percent also covers credits on salaries of up to $100,000 to state residents and can be carried forward for five years from original issuance; a yearly sunset provision was removed in 2009, so the credit doesn’t expire.

Blurton Dances in Zspace 3D
film production in IllinoisOne of the latest projects at Chicago’s Fred Blurton Productions (www.fbptv.com) is a two-and-one-half-minute video created for the 95th anniversary celebration of the Chicago Community Trust and projected for an audience of approximately 700. Crafted in partnership with Kurtis Productions, also of Chicago, it features the moves of 19 dance groups, all from the Second City, including two dancers from the famed Joffrey Ballet.

The video employed a 2D/3D technique Blurton developed and markets as Zspace 3D. It was shot with several cameras, including new JVC 790s, Canon HDSLRs and the Panasonic AG-3DA1 full HD 3D camcorder, with the latest version of Apple’s Final Cut Pro HD and Adobe After Effects and Photoshop for editing and graphics. “We primarily use traditional tools to create the 3D illusion,” says Blurton. “That’s why Zspace is affordable.”

An unusual twist is that applicants get an additional 15 percent on salaries of individuals who live in an economically disadvantaged area of the state with more than 10 percent unemployment (based on census data).

So, all told, things are looking up in Illinois. “We’re already on track for tremendous growth for this year, too,” says Marcelyn Love, spokesperson for the Illinois Film Office, noting that a record year would not be surprising. That’s due, in part, to Illinois also being a “no cap” state; there is a minimum spend of $50,000 for a production of less than 30 minutes, and $100,000 for longer productions.

Fletcher’s First ALEXAs Ride Along on New Series
film production in IllinoisFOX TV’s upcoming, Chicago-based Ride Along series from executive producer Shawn Ryan is one of the first programs to employ the new ARRI ALEXA digital camera (pictured); Fletcher Camera & Lenses (www.fletch.com) regularly supplies two ALEXAs for the show plus two more as needed for 2nd unit work. “We’ve ordered seven,” says owner Thomas Fletcher. “The amazing thing is that they have worked flawlessly since day one, with no hiccups.”

Ryan’s TV series not only wanted ALEXA for its high image quality but also for its compact size appropriate for a show called Ride Along. ALEXA “set at 800 ASA, was very attractive, and it has a smaller footprint [than] comparable cameras,” Fletcher says. Shooters “want lighter, smaller, faster; and 800 ASA is a big jump. It’s also very quiet in the black with no noise, which is unusual. ARRI has established a new platform from 500 ASA, the previous gold standard.”

Parts of two major motion pictures have been produced in-state lately: Ron Howard’s Dilemma and Michael Bay’s Transformers 3, both of which shot in Chicago during the summer. On the indie side, Ca$h recently hit the silver screen.

TV productions include Ride-Along, a police drama that will start airing in January on FOX; its one-hour pilot was shot in the Windy City last April and the show was picked up for 12 episodes. The creation of Rockford, Illinois native Shawn Ryan, it stars Jennifer Beals and Jason Clark. Love and others expect the series to generate $25 million in economic activity and create more than 400 jobs.

Since Chicago is a big media market, having a healthy crew roster hasn’t been an issue there. “We pride ourselves on our wonderful crew base and our infrastructure,” says Love who notes that Chicago Studio City and CineSpace Chicago and various smaller venues offer shooting space.

Radar Studios is Visible Success
film production in IllinoisAn artist-driven production company, Chicago’s Radar Studios (www.radarstudios.com) was founded by director Don Hoeg and VFX artist John Truckenbrod 11 years ago to provide production through finishing services. Today Radar has grown to a tight-knit team of 20 featuring directors, designers, animators, VFX artists and editors under one roof. “It’s an efficient and more creative way to produce a job,” notes executive producer Lisa Masseur.

The company’s four directors have been busy this fall. Hoeg shot a Hot Wheels spot campaign (pictured); Danny J. Boyle directed a package of McDonald’s Happy Meals commercials; Sam Macon helmed a stop-motion campaign for McDonald’s France via TBWA/Paris plus a series of web spots for AutoTrader.com; and director/animator duo Walter Robot shot a music video for Danish band Quadron. Both Boyle and Walter Robot are new to Radar this year. “We’ve been in expansion mode,” Masseur reports.

film production in chicago and detroit
South Loop river view in Chicago.
Photo by: City of Chicago/Mark Montgomery

ABC’s new cop drama, Detroit 1-8-7, is shot almost entirely in the Motor City.
Photo by: ABC/Mark H. Preston

Michigan Puts Pedal to the Metal
When Michigan joined the production tax incentive fray, it was with an emphatic leap: Producers have to love that there’s no cap on how much money is available to productions that shoot in the state.

As for the rules and regs, productions must spend $50,000 to receive a 40 percent refundable tax credit, across the board, for above-line personnel on Michigan expenditures; for workers from out of state, the percentage drops to 30 percent (since Michigan aims to build its crew base for below-line personnel). Also, shooting in a designated core community means that a production can tack on an additional 2 percent to the credit.

One of the country’s most aggressive programs, it already has produced results; however, given Michigan’s rocky economic climate, some state legislators have been eyeballing the state’s outlay to the production industry for a possible cut.

Acknowledging that some lawmakers favor a cap, Michelle Begnoche, communications advisor for the Michigan Film Office, offers the opposing viewpoint. “We argue that you have to look at the entire picture,” she says. “If you look at our numbers, we are clearly seeing growth. In the first two-and-one-half years of the program, $350 million was spent in the state. For 2010 alone, we’re expecting more than $300 million in economic impact by the film industry.”

Detroit’s With a Twist Studio Serves Up Cocktail of VFX
film production in MichiganMichigan natives David Burton (pictured) and Pam Hammarlund opened VFX house With a Twist Studio (www.withatwiststudio.com) five years ago in Detroit and Los Angeles. The company built a reputation as a trusted “9-1-1 house” that could be relied on to help other VFX vendors when they needed extra hands, says Burton. But lately With a Twist has been getting its own shows: It delivered 15 shots for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, over 80 shots for the Tom Cruise feature Knight & Day and over 100 shots for stereo 3D conversion for Alice in Wonderland.

Armed with Mac, PC and Linux hardware running The Foundry’s Nuke, Side Effects’ Houdini and Autodesk Maya — with Apple’s Final Cut Pro for editorial — With a Twist also created the ID package for ESPN’s new 3D network, crafted all the digital assets for Infiniti’s print and interactive work, and is prepping VFX shots for features Machine Gun Preacher and Water For Elephants. “We sell ourselves as a VFX facility,” Burton emphasizes. “Michigan’s production incentives are the icing on the cake.”

Last year Michigan hosted native son Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story; the HBO Original Movie You Don’t Know Jack for which Al Pacino won a 2010 Emmy starring as Dr. Jack Kevorkian (it shot in Detroit, Pontiac, Royal Oak and Troy); The Irishman with Val Kilmer and Christopher Walken (Detroit); Stone headlined by Edward Norton and Robert De Niro (Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Jackson); Conviction starring Hilary Swank (Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Detroit) and Rob Reiner’s Flipped (Ann Arbor and Manchester).

As for production activity in 2010, considerable parts of Transformers 3 and most of A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas from Warner Bros. and Real Steel from DreamWorks were shot in Michigan. On the small screen, ABC’s new cop drama Detroit 1-8-7, which stars Michael Imperioli of The Sopranos, is lensed almost entirely in the city; HBO’s Hung and PBS’s Katie Brown Workshop also shoot in Michigan.

The influx of production has provided inspiration for various support services, notably LA-based Raleigh Studios which broke ground on a site in Pontiac in July that will be known as Motown Motion Picture Studios.

All things considered, Begnoche expects the state to tally “an economic impact in excess of $300 million for 2010, and we’re continuing to get applications from production companies. To date, we’ve received 100 applications for the incentives and 50 have been approved though the first nine months of this year.”

Kinetic Post Races Ahead With Ford
film production in MichiganNew at Kinetic Post (www.kineticpost.com) in Southfield, Michigan is a series of four web videos and a :30 spot for agency Team Detroit to promote (a car, what else?) the Ford Fiesta. It features a duel between rally car racer Ken Block and his Fiesta and NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger and his Ford Fusion.

The goal, says Tom Phillips, Kinetic’s senior creative editor/director of technology, “was to provide ‘infotainment’ for the surfers” who visit www.43fiestas.com. The shoot was handled by Team Detroit and employed RED One and Sony XDCAM EX cameras at Concord Speedway in North Carolina. Kinetics edited the package on Avid DS and Media Composer systems and color corrected on the Digital Vision Film Master. The spot drove traffic to the website to watch the videos, which were released leading up to Ford Championship Weekend.

Lucas Oil Stadium is home to the Indianapolis Colts. Photo by: Film Indiana
Lucas Oil Stadium is home to the Indianapolis Colts.
Photo by: Film Indiana

Indiana’s Different Approach
In Hollywood, Indiana is known for its tales of inspiration, notably Breaking Away, Rudy and, of course, Hoosiers.

And that’s how the state’s powers that be like it.

The state’s method for dealing with the film business is similar to “the way we deal with other parts of our economic development program,” says Secretary of Commerce Mitch Roob, who runs the Indiana Economic Development Corp. “This is no knock on any other films that have shot here recently, but we like films that are about Indiana, like Hoosiers, that cast a positive light on the state.

“And that is why we’re more selective about investing [in incentives]. We know that other states have thrown a lot of money at Hollywood, and Hollywood took the money, completed their productions and left. Unless a given film was quintessentially about a state, they didn’t leave much there. What we’re promoting is Indiana as a place to live and do business.”

Indiana has a $2.5 million incentive cap. The most recent update to the scant incentive package was the passage of the 2008 Media Production Expenditure Tax Credit (MPETC). It’s a refundable credit up to 15 percent of qualified investment, such as the payment of wages, salaries and benefits for state residents and others. Indiana’s fiscal year runs from July to June, “and little of the money has been used to date,” Roob reports.

Richmarc HD Creates Visual Scrapbook
film production in IndianaAmong recent projects at Richmarc HD (www.richmarc.com) in Indianapolis is a :30 spot for Kentucky Tourism that’s a visual scrapbook of “My Kentucky Vacation.” It combines elements of live action, effects and still photography, with Richmarc employing 3D animation, compositing and motion design to showcase what to do in the state.

Vice president Rick Thompson says the Richmarc crew, using Sony PDW-F800 XDCAM HD camcorders, captured all of the live action on greenscreen, “so we were able to shoot the actors in nine scenes after shooting background plates at four locations statewide.” Richmarc collaborated with agency New!West of Louisville and lead creative house Schofield Editorial on the commercial; Schofield tapped its Avid, Autodesk Smoke, After Effects and Autodesk 3ds Max toolset for the project.

What’s next? Richmarc is considering the best workflow to integrate live- action 3D into mainstream TV advertising.

The most recent production to partake of incentives is an animated movie that’s being produced in Kokomo, Whoever Heard of a Herd of Ferd? Roob notes that other movies have used Indiana backdrops, including such Hollywood productions as Public Enemies that shot in Crown Point; Transformers 3, part of which shot in Gary earlier this year; and the most recent installment of Nightmare on Elm Street.

“We enjoy a relatively small, but vibrant, film industry here,” says Roob, “but we’re not looking to expand the fund. Most of the films that have come here did so without incentives. They want the scenery, the low-cost of working here and our reasonably-sized crew base.”

Indiana residents and their “Hoosier hospitality” welcome crews to Indiana locales, he adds. “They’re treated like celebrities here. If the same crew shot in a big city like Chicago, for instance, roads might get blocked off and [residents] can get annoyed. Security may even be required.” Producers “can usually get extras here for free, just because the locals enjoy the fun of being part of the production.”

On the small screen, ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Food Network’s Man vs. Food have been shot in the state, as have programs for local PBS affiliates.

DL Images Rolls For Tire Barn
film production in IndianaIndianapolis-based DL Images (www.dlimages.com) recently completed a four-spot Midwest regional campaign for Tire Barn. Shot in HD at a local Tire Barn store with a company-owned Sony PMW-EX3 XDCAM EX camcorder, the crew spent one day capturing daytime footage for three spots then moved to the Colts training camp to lens receiver Pierre Garcon (pictured, with crew) for the fourth spot. The Colts commercial was also used by Tire Barn to solicit donations to Garcon’s native Haiti, which was struck by a devastating earthquake early this year. The spots were cut at DL Images on the Avid Nitris with After Effects enhancements.

Business has been “remarkably good” lately for DL Images owner Lee Nassau, who often rents cameras since he shoots “with a different [one] three times a week.” But he’s thinking of investing in a second EX3 due to demand for the camcorder.

Corbin Bernsen (far right) sets up a racing shot for 25 Hill in Akron, Ohio.
Corbin Bernsen (far right) sets up a racing shot for 25 Hill in Akron, Ohio.

New Incentives Fuel Ohio Production
The production incentive from the Ohio Film Office is two-fold: It’s a 25-percent refundable tax credit based on in-state expenditures, combined with a 25-percent credit for non-resident crew wages (or 35 percent for Ohio residents).

It’s a relatively recent upgrade, says director Jeremy Henthorn: The bill went into effect last October. But it certainly didn’t take very long to get the lights turned on, the cameras rolling and action underway.

“I can tell you that [the new incentives] have changed the landscape quite a bit already,” he reports. “During the past year, we’ve seen nine Hollywood films come into the state; before the incentives came into effect, you might have seen one a year, and then just for some second- unit shots.”

The Camera Department Supplies Phantom Fans
film production in OhioThe Camera Department, an equipment rental house in Cincinnati (www.thecameradept.com), recently supplied a Phantom HD Gold camera (pictured with Phantom tech Shawn Baird) with Cooke S4i Prime lenses to Indianapolis-based Road Pictures for a Delta Faucets project. Joel Umbaugh directed and Jeff Stonehouse served as DP for the trade show and online video from the Miller Brooks agency. It focused on Delta’s-H2OKinetic product line that creates more drenching water droplets and reduces water consumption.

The Phantom is “very popular among customers,” says Camera Department co-owner Mal Connett; so is the company’s full line of Angenieux Optimo zoom lenses, which is prompting the purchase of a few more. Also flying off the shelves is the new Sony F35 CineAlta camera. Coming soon: two ARRI ALEXAs.

Indie film production is also on the upswing. “There used to be some independent projects going on here before the incentives passed, between 2005 to 2009,” he recalls. “But since then, the funding has also trickled down to many more of the indie productions.

The biggest Hollywood film to shoot in Ohio so far is FOX’s upcoming Unstoppable, directed by Tony Scott and starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine and shot in Martin’s Ferry and Bellaire. Indie feature Shelter, starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, lensed south of Cleveland.

Fall arrives at a farm in South Central Ohio.
Fall arrives at a farm in South Central Ohio.

MadWerkz Cuts Its Second Indie Feature
film production in OhioCleveland’s MadWerkz Studios (www.madwerkz.com), a content creation/visual effects and animation boutique, is currently in postproduction with its second indie feature, Deadly Return, produced with Hermano Films and Blatch-Gleib Productions. Written by Ron Hughes, the horror-thriller includes digital-werewolf creatures and digital-double heroes designed by Inda Blatch-Gleib and modeled by Alexander Rivera in zBrush.

Deadly Return was shot last summer by a union crew with Mad-Werkz’s multiple RED cameras, says principal, Joddy Eric Matthews. MadWerkz offers one of the area’s only full RED 2K workflows, which includes RED Rocket workstations and Grade 1 Evaluation displays, Autodesk Maya, Pixar RenderMan, RealFlow and The Foundry’s Nuke. The initial conform was performed using Assimilate’s Scratch with VFX done in Nuke and color correction on Black Magic’s da Vinci Resolve for Linux at 2K resolution. “The film will be converted to [stereo] 3D for select screenings, a first for a northeastern Ohio film,” says Matthews.

Among recent indies in the pipeline are Freerunner, an action film which shot in Cleveland, and 25 Hill, from actor/writer/director Corbin Bernsen, about the legendary Soap Box Derby that takes place annually in Akron.

Such an active production market is sure to grow when the legislature makes the investment. “We had a $10-million cap for the first year, which was 2009-10; we’re in the second year now and it’s $20 million,” says Henthorn. He points out that the “ballpark economic impact” for the first year was “about $9.4 million in Ohio wages and an estimated $24.3 million to Ohio vendors.”


The PPS Group Shines With Silverado Chrome Edition
film production in OhioThe PPS Group (www.theppsgroup.com) recently turnkeyed a “2011 Chevrolet Silverado Chrome Edition” spot from Velocity/Detroit for the central Florida local marketing association. Shot on location with the RED camera by director/DP David Morrison, the commercial captures the early-morning glow of the Sunshine State as the truck emerges from the car wash with its chrome sparkling. John Marshall was Velocity’s creative director; Preston Price handled editorial, color correction and VFX at PPS and Deb Price produced.

PPS has been serving the Midwest production and post community from the Cincinnati area for nearly 30 years, specializing in high-end commercial and corporate work. Other recent projects include spots for Instant Tax Service from CG Marketing and Penn Station Subs from Snap Advertising and a corporate video for Hobart Technical Center from Gyro HSR.


December 7, 2012