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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Michigan's film incentive loss is Maryland's gain?

Story originally appeared on Freep.

Here's a head-scratcher for you.

Michigan's popular film credits, which became a source of controversy when Gov. Rick Snyder questioned their economic value and cut the program drastically, are on track to be funded at about $25 million in the next fiscal year.

And filmmakers? They've pretty much stopped lining up so fast to shoot here. Advocates for the film credits say we've closed our window of opportunity.

But Maryland recently tripled its film incentives to -- wait for it -- $25 million, and seems awash in movie business. And actually, that state started landing big film shoots while its credits were much, much smaller.

They were just $1 million in 2011, and jumped to $7.5 million in 2012. That was enough to get several independent films, the HBO drama "Game Change," about Sarah Palin's vice presidential run, and the HBO series "Veep."

Now, the Netflix political drama "House of Cards" has started shooting its second season there, while state officials are bragging about the economic effects that series is having. (Warning: There may be nothing fuzzier than "spinoff" calculations from film production, as we've learned here in Michigan; depending on how you do it, you could get wildly different results. But $140 million, the reported impact from "House of Cards," is a big, big number; so is 2,200, which is the number of estimated jobs created by the series.)

It really makes you wonder whether we're doing something wrong here in Michigan, right? Maryland, for starters, is not offering individual credits nearly as high as Michigan's were. Theirs is 25% of total costs; ours, under Jennifer Granholm, was 42%, highest in the nation.

In addition, Maryland seems to have been more successful landing long-term projects, like "Veep" and "House of Cards," series that will pay off more over time than one-time filmings.

In Michigan, we've been having a prolonged argument about the absolute value of film incentives, with the governor saying they're essentially nothing, while advocates argue that they're unlimited.

But I wonder whether maybe the question is more relative: Have other states figured out how to make more of film incentives with less money, both per-film and overall, in the program?

Does Maryland maybe have some advantages that we're unaware of? Proximity to Washington, D.C., might help with D.C.-based stories, I suppose. Or maybe the state's doing something else we're not thinking of.

In either case, I know this: Michigan could definitely use $140 million in economic activity. If there were a way to make that happen through film incentives, I'd be all for it.