More from the Annals of Film Tourism: Did “Detroit 1-8-7″ Promote Tourism for Michigan?
Coming on the heels of the last week’s Film Works article about film induced tourism (FIT) is a related story from Michigan over the weekend. As it turns out, one of the television productions that received the Michigan film tax credit was ABC’s Detroit 1-8-7, a crime drama about the Detroit Police homicide department. Last week, ABC canceled the show. To be clear, Film Works sympathizes with the hard working men and women, whether they be California or Michigan residents, who worked on the show. There is an important distinction between a creative runaway, like Detroit 1-8-7, and an economic runaway, like Battle: Los Angeles.
A show that is about– and set in–Detroit should shoot significant portions there if possible. One of the important intangible benefits of having film incentives in the United States is the potential for cultural enrichment. An example of the cultural argument was made by Director James Mangold, who discussed the importance of filming the highly acclaimed Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line in the places the film’s story happened:
One of the things that’s getting very lost in the business of movies, where people go, you know, very often to Canada to shoot films to save money is that we lose the ability to capture parts of our own culture. And this film, Kathy Conrad (producer) and I are really proud that we shot this film in the places that it happened, mainly in Memphis, Tennessee, Nashville and its surroundings. And you get more than just the scenery when you do that, you get a lot more. You get the people. You get the people working on the film who are from the area. And, you know, in this case also you get people who love Johnny Cash and work their heads off.
But just as there is a distinction between creative runaways and economic runaways, so too is there a distinction between arguing for film incentives for the cultural benefit versus arguing for film incentives based on promises of film induced tourism. In Michigan, many of the more outspoken and influential supporters of the film incentive program are making film tourism argument, not the cultural. According to Michigan resident and best-selling author Mitch Albom, Michigan’s film incentive is “about perception”:
This is about perception. How can you put a price tag on people thinking Michigan is a cool place to visit? Think of what you know about London or Beijing or Sydney. Now ask yourself how many times you’ve been there? If the answer is none, how do you know what it looks like? Movies. TV. Stories told there. How many people think Hawaii now because of the new “Hawaii Five O”? How many know about Miami through “CSI”? In our own backyard, they are still taking tourist dollars at the Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island from one movie – “Somewhere in Time” – which was made 30 years ago.
The first flaw in Albom’s statement concerns CSI Miami. As we pointed out in last week’s post, California-based shows like The Office and Cheers have shown that other states (here Pennsylvania and Massachusetts respectively) can, and have, benefited from film induced tourism even though filming occurred outside the state. Thus, if Albom thinks Florida and Miami are benefiting from film induced tourism because of CSI, it would be foolish for him to argue Florida needs a film incentive. Florida does not need to pay for any tourism to benefit from CSI because they are getting it for free! CSI Miami is filmed in California, not Florida.
The other flaw in Albom’s argument is assuming equal tourism benefit from dissimilar productions. Somewhere in Time was a beloved romance filmed at a majestic and historic resort hotel on scenic Mackinac Island. A romance filmed at such a hotel is almost certain to induce tourists to want to stay there as well. Seeing the inner workings of Detroit’s homicide department, however, is not likely to induce such tourism. That said, the show is more likely to induce tourism to Michigan than the six most expensive films, in terms of tax credits awarded by the state, none of which are set in the state:
|Film:||Cost of Tax Credit:||Setting of Plot:|
Oz: The Great and Powerful
|$39.7 million||Fictional land of Oz|
|Real Steal||$18.3 million||Fictional dystopian America where robots have replaced humans in boxing matches.|
|Red Dawn||$16.7 million||The original was set in Colorado, but the remake is rumored to be set in Washington State.|
|Scream 4||$11.2 million||California|
|Harold and Kumar 3||$8.3 million||New York|
|Transformers 3||$6.1 million||Primarily Chicago, Illinois|
When it comes to the films listed above, Albom would be hard-pressed to make either the cultural or tourism argument for Michigan. If the purpose of the Michigan film incentive is to create jobs, then Albom’s argument should focus on that aspect alone. It’s disingenuous to lobby Michigan’s elected officials based on the allure of film tourism when the program has shown it is not likely to deliver.
Thus, cancellation of Detroit 1-8-7 is welcome news for Michigan’s tourism industry, according to one advertising expert,who thinks the $19.5 million Michigan spent on tax credits for the show was a poor use of state funds:
“My main concern … is that the negatives associated with featuring murder as sort of the central theme associated with the city are offsetting the positives that we are trying to do by running — what is generally regarded as — one of the best travel campaigns in the country,” said Richard T. Cole, a professor and immediate past chairman of the Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Retailing at Michigan State University.
Cole, who worked in Detroit for more than 15 years, told MLive Detroit it was wrong of the state to subsidize a show like “Detroit Murder 1-8-7” in the first place.
“It’s always seemed to me to be very, very strange that the state would consider financing this type of activity,” he said. “To the extent that ‘Detroit Murder 1-8-7′ is over, that’s positive; at least in the sense we’re no longer financing the proliferation of a very negative image.”
Cole, who admits the show was well done, said the performers on the show did attempt “to offset some of the negatives that may have been associated with the violent theme.”
Los Angeles-based actor Erin Cummings, who played a doctor on the show, is one of the performers Cole may have been referring to. According to the article, Cummings founded “Mittens for Detroit, which distributed new gloves and mittens to children and adults in the city.” And while Detroit 1-8-7‘s violent themes may not have squared with Michigan’s “Pure Michigan” pro-tourism campaign, some feel that filming in Detroit helps job creation in Michigan when Hollywood-based performers “[talk] about the state.”
The $19.5 million Michigan spent on Detroit 1-8-7 is almost double the $10 million in additional funding Governor Rick Snyder allocated to the Pure Michigan campaign. The Pure Michigan campaign, according to Governor Snyder, brings in more money than it costs the state. Michigan’s film incentive, however, is a net cost. In 2010 alone, Michigan awarded over $171 million and will generate revenues of less than $20 million, according to a Michigan Senate Analysis of the program.
Check out one of the commercials produced for the Pure Michigan campaign and compare it to a promo for Detroit 1-8-7:
Which one do you think is a better use of Michigan state funds to promote tourism? Perhaps supporters of Michigan’s film incentive should stick to promoting benefits of the in-state production spending and jobs, rather than promising illusory benefits of film tourism from projects that are not even set there.