Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, December 21, 2009

Daniels touts film industry and state’s talent pool as tools in recovery

A tax credit that refunds up to 42 percent of the cost of movies made in Michigan is aggressive, but it has to be if the state is to diversify its long-term job base with a successful film industry, movie actor, playwright and theater developer Jeff Daniels said Sunday.

Speaking at a press conference after addressing U-M graduates at the 2009 Winter Commencement, Daniels said it probably will take about three to five years to build a film industry infrastructure that can compete with other regions that are able to thrive without offering a tax credit.

Jeff Daniels met with the media after speaking to graduates at Sunday's commencement ceremony. (Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

“We aren’t quite there yet. We have the locations. The crews have to kind of turn up,” Daniels said. But, he added, even with the heavy subsidy, the payoff to the state is significant.

“It’s money coming in. They leave it here. They go away and it trickles through the community,” he said. “Yeah, there’s money going out to get them here, but there’s a lot of money coming in. And it’s not going into Tom Cruise’s pocket, or David Schwimmer’s pocket. They’re spending a lot of money.”

The Ann Arbor area has felt the impact of such spending as several movies have used area locations this year. Schwimmer’s film “Trust” used the North Campus Research Center to house sets for a variety of scenes.

Irritation was evident in Daniels’ voice when he spoke of those who criticize the givebacks as too steep for a state in such a tenuous financial condition as Michigan.

“I have yet to hear anyone who doesn’t like it that has an alternative that’s creating that amount of jobs,” he said. “I’m sick and tired of corporations who are saying, ‘Good news. We got a bailout, we can lay off 10,000 people.’ It’s sickening. I know it comes out of the business textbook, but it’s sickening. … Let’s create jobs instead of downsizing people.”

And the state’s burgeoning film sector also offers a way to help stem the drain of young talent that is fleeing Michigan for greener pastures elsewhere, he said. “Those kids coming out of Michigan — they can run to Austin (Texas) or L.A. Or they can hire on here, because there are 60 movies being shot here this year.”

Daniels said U-M and other Michigan universities can play a valuable role in the effort to revitalize the state, by stressing the opportunities that are available in a down economy if graduates choose to capitalize on them.

“There is this talent pool, this gift of knowledge that is coming out of places like Michigan, that we should try and keep here,” he said. “There are opportunities here among all the lost jobs, I think, if people are aggressive enough to start off, really start off low.

“I don’t know if the generation today really understands that — to really start off with nothing and go from there. I hope they do. I hope they’re willing to make those sacrifices.”

A willingness to build something from nothing except opportunity is a notion that fits in with other values Daniels said are necessary to move forward. Some things are inherent, while others must be rediscovered.

“Our leaders need to be accountable. We’ve lost the ability to go, ‘It’s my fault, I’ll fix it,’ or, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do to make it better. You can hold me to this.’ We don’t do that anymore. We spin,” he said.

“We have the intelligence and the knowledge coming out of places like Michigan, so don’t tell me we don’t have the brain power. Finally, we have a work ethic here. And that’s a good old-fashioned, Midwestern, ‘I will outwork you’ work ethic.

“We have a lot to offer.”