©2016 Michigan Economic Development Corporation

New name bolsters effort to build state’s creative industries

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Frank Provenzano

LANSING, Mich. – With a broader mission and an innovative approach to promoting film and digital media production throughout the state, the Michigan Film Office will now be known as the Michigan Film & Digital Media Office.

“The new name reflects substantive changes to our vision, and is one of many steps in branding Michigan as a preeminent place for filmmakers, digital media artists and producers along with building a home for the range of talent in the state’s creative industries,” said Jenell Leonard, commissioner of the Michigan Film & Digital Media Office. MFO new logo horizontal 240 pixel

A distinctive feature of the newly aligned office is the restructuring of the 14-member advisory council, which includes members representing various geographical areas of the state and diverse professions, including creative, advertising/marketing, production, education and legal.

The Goal: Elevating Michigan’s profile, attracting investment, increasing jobs

Five focus areas of the board include talent development/networking, promotional/marketing, measures and metrics, digital media and finance. The renewed focus for the office, said Leonard, aims to attract businesses that create content across all media channels, including mobile, CGI, animation, digital, gaming and social media.

Among the initiatives that demonstrate the broader mission is the Michigan Film & Digital Media Office’s sponsorship of the Digital Summit Detroit, Sept. 22-23. The summit showcases the diverse range of professionals working in digital media, marshalling projects from design to the marketplace. College students from across the state will attend the summit as guests of the Michigan Film & Digital Media Office.

“The digital media summit is a great opportunity for students to learn first-hand about the emerging opportunities as they connect with some of the most prominent digital media businesses participating in the summit,” said Leonard.

The new office name represents a new chapter in the history of the Michigan Film Office, established in 1979 to assist in location scouting and creating a director of the state’s film community. Beginning in 2008, tax credits were used to lure production companies to the state, and then in 2012, a cash-rebate incentive program was instituted. The incentive program was eliminated in July.

The new direction is in response to the challenge to connect private investors with film and digital media entrepreneurs, said Bill Ludwig, advisory council chair and former chairman-CEO of Campbell-Ewald, Detroit.

“Michigan business built our production business, not Hollywood,” he said. “We’re finding startups in digital and social media content creation (or curation) are looking to private investors for support. We need to find ways for those connections to happen more frequently.”

Before incentives, Michigan ranked third among states in film production. In the last seven years, however, many long-established post-production businesses have closed, including Grace and Wilde, Universal Images, Postique, Image Express and Producer’s Color, said Ludwig.

“Our approach is to focus on supporting and building the creative industries and production community in Michigan,” he said. “For the most part, these industries are sustained through commercial and industrial production work.”

Strategic response to digital opportunities

In the aftermath of the recent elimination of the film and digital media incentive program, the expanded office name comes after the early spring release of a strategic plan that outlines a new direction. In the upcoming months, the advisory board members will suggest cost-effective approaches to establishing cornerstones of the strategic plan, which include:

  • Coordinated statewide advocacy and advertising promotion of world-class film talent, network of production professionals and film festivals focusing on the advantage of working and producing creative projects in Michigan. 

  • Public-private partnerships that facilitate financing of production equipment and services, and building coalitions to foster entrepreneurial environment for the creation of digital-based products.
  • Educational alliances with universities, community colleges and arts schools as a means to elevate awareness of training and employment opportunities in the creative industries. 
  • Regional support among cultural institutions, arts groups and philanthropic community to support endeavors of the state’s creative industries.

Many jobs in the creative industries are unconventional and reflect contemporary conveniences of the “work anywhere” phenomenon made possible in the digital age, said Leonard. These aren’t necessarily 9-to-5 jobs, or jobs that can be quantified as easily as adding hourly jobs to increased work at a manufacturing plant, she said.

Many jobs in the creative industries are often referred to as employment in the “1099 economy,” a reference to the freelance nature of the work.

“Freelance work shouldn’t be mistaken for part-time employment,” said Leonard. “Many creative professionals cobble together short-term jobs into full-time careers as artists, designers, actors, and skill-trade professionals working on film/production sets. We need to acknowledge 21st-century workplace realities and foster industry growth.”

Critical to the next phase in developing Michigan’s creative industries is building a stronger bond among stakeholders and private-sector partners/investors, especially in bringing together entrepreneurs, innovators as a way to diversify and strengthen the Michigan economy.

“Nearly everyone interacts with digital media every day, and those aspiring to work in digital media need to be recognized, cultivated and inspired,” said Hopwood DePree, advisory council member, founder of TicTock Studios and co-founder of the Waterfront Film Festival.

“It’s an exciting new chapter,” he said. “The name change represents a broader approach and a recommitment in creating jobs in the digital media and entertainment industry.”

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