Written by on Sep 25, 2013. Posted in Interviews

Filming Detroit: Attracting the big hitters of Hollywood to an iconic city

Detroit set an unwanted record in mid-2013 as it became the largest city in the US to file for bankruptcy protection. Since then, the iconic Michigan metropolis has hosted Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, while Zack Snyder’s Batman Vs Superman will visit in 2014.

Michigan’s production industry has faced an uphill struggle since the fund for its filming incentive was dramatically slashed in 2011. Detroit native Sam Raimi filmed his fantasy epic Oz: The Great and Powerful in the state-of-the-art Raleigh Studios (now named Michigan Motion Picture Studios) and got a production rebate of around USD40 million, but then authorities capped Michigan's annual film fund. The state was left with a mere USD25 million for 2011/12, although this figure grew to around USD60 million the following year.

“The cap was the biggest problem,” observes Karla Murray of Film Detroit: “The actual rebate percentages have remained competitive with the country’s largest production hubs, but the cap meant we could only appeal to smaller productions for the first year or so after it was introduced.”

Murray says that Detroit is “coming back” and while the bankruptcy was announced this summer, the production industry has defied negative press to welcome a series of high-profile filmmakers.

Images of ramshackle neighbourhoods have been used a lot in the press and while these places exist, there are other parts of the city that are vibrant and still growing.

Karla Murray, Film Detroit

Ryan Gosling had worked in the city already on George Clooney’s The Ides of March and he returned for his directorial debut How to Catch a Monster. Michael Bay then used the city centre for major action sequences in Transformers: Age of Extinction and Zack Snyder will all but take over Michigan Motion Picture Studios (below) for the highly-anticipated superhero follow-up tentatively referred to as Batman Vs Superman.

“The city’s bankruptcy drew a lot of bad press,” Murray states: “But the city is being constructive in getting its finances in order and restructuring the debt. It’s not all doom and gloom. Images of ramshackle neighbourhoods have been used a lot in the press and while these places exist, there are other parts of the city that are vibrant and still growing.”

She adds that when the filming incentive fund was first scaled back the uncertainty in Hollywood caused problems, but this is clearly now changing, given the nature of the productions the city is attracting.

“Detroit has been firmly on the filmmaking radar for years due to the good reputation of the local crews and the studio facilities, not to mention the fact that you can do a lot in Detroit that you simply can’t do in other US locations, like blowing up city blocks!” Murray says.

Michigan will be planning the next few years with a presumed continuing cap on the annual film fund. Detroit will get a boost in early 2014 from Batman Vs Superman, which has secured a USD35 million rebate on planned local expenditure of around USD130 million.

The city is once again building its impressive and extensive production CV and it’s looking confident for the years ahead.


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