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My feelings on the film incentive cap.

in·cen·tive
   /ɪnˈsɛntɪv/ [in-sen-tiv]
–noun
1.
something that incites or tends to incite to action or greater effort, as a reward offered for increased productivity.
–adjective
2.
inciting, as to action; stimulating; provocative.

Typically, emails from one of my two agents causes me to feel a giddy expectation, but when an email came through a couple of days ago, I dreaded what it would say. Sure enough, at the time, it was confirmed that two major motion pictures were pulling their production out of the state of Michigan. Since then, others have begun to follow suit and as the shock wears off, the ripple effects are going to truly be felt.

Let me explain a bit about my stance on the film incentive cap that is being put into place:

I was a filmmaker and actress before the film incentives came to Michigan. Struggling against the odds, yes, but doing all I could to make it work here in the shadow of corrupt unions and the failed auto industry. I’ll full admit one thing and that is that I have a personal and professional bias about the film industry. However, I’m attempting to approach this as I would ANY industry that is starting to draw non-negative attention to my state and home region and attempting to treat this as active industry, not specifically film industry.

Years ago, the thought of a major movie star being in town for any reason gave us the small-town shivers. Nobody ever visits Detroit, not for the heck of it. Sure, we have great cultural attractions in the DIA, Henry Ford and Greenfield Village, casinos, great waterfront views, the list can go on and on. What we didn’t have was a thriving industry. Just as we were hopeful and excited when the casinos opened in Detroit, we were hopeful that the film industry would be our saving grace. We were still reeling from the disappointment of the casinos not really living up to the hype and still buried in broken dreams caused by the auto industry failing. It once worked to have one strong industry in place, but over time, it has become a burden. In 2008, auto companies begged for money and it was decided that billions of dollars of tax money were to be given to the auto industry to keep them afloat. Let’s focus on that for a moment.

Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 1, 2009. Between Chrysler and GM, there was approximately $17.4 BILLION dollars in tax money involved. The film incentive cap is $25million. That’s what, 14% of the auto bailout to Chrysler and GM, a good chunk of which doesn’t have to be repaid because of the bankruptcy?

Meanwhile, Chrysler paid $9million on their SuperBowl ad, which had raw footage filmed in Detroit, but post production was done in California. Why is that? We have a solid film industry here in Michigan and have for years, even BEFORE the film incentives. We do industrials, indie films, commercials here. The film incentives were just the push we needed to do larger projects that require more staff/crew/talent. The film incentives were just the push we needed to get people to come to us instead of us going to them, which in turn stimulated local business.

Back in May of 2010, just after my birthday in fact, I found out that I had a part in a SAG film. Until that point, I’d had some auditions, but my real money from ‘acting’ was coming from extra work. On set, you’d see people slipping extra granola bars and bagels into their bags and purses, whispering about being glad they’d have something to eat for dinner. Until that point, I’d only seen this behavior on TV shows that would use the ‘starving actor’ as a stereotype. The difference in this case? It wasn’t usually an actor who was starving, it was someone who was laid off, downsized, sometimes outright fired and they were losing their cars and homes. Having a bagel secreted away for dinner meant not having to spend a precious $5 on a meal, especially when they had to pay the insanely expensive gas prices to get to set in the first place. People were THRILLED to have a job, even if it was just for one day making minimum wage and working in sometimes brutal conditions. In summer, the heat and sun were incredibly hot and in winter the cold air bit into you, yet there people stood for hours on end, hoping maybe filming might go an extra couple of hours so they could score the overtime wages. And yes, there I stood with them, glad that I had a day job and was doing it more for the experience than for the money. Thankfully, I wasn’t entirely alone. Several of my ‘extra’ friends were there for the experience, thrilled that they had taken time and money from their pockets AND from the government to be retrained so one day soon, they too could be WORKING on these sets.

I filmed my speaking role in July and the production wrapped shortly after. A few weeks after the film’s wrap party, I was once again back on set, this time as an extra again. The PAs on set remembered me and were surprised to find that I was doing extra work still. I said ‘You have to pay the bills somehow’ and that’s exactly the case. In the weeks between filming these two movies, I lost my job. After 12 years at a company, my position was no longer required and they had recently hired someone else at a lower rate of pay that was little by little taking over my job. The frugal thing for them to do was to have that person take over my position. It was my first ‘real’ employer. Prior to then, I had a few jobs, but it was that time in your late teens and early 20s where you don’t really know what you want to do or where you want to do it. I was 23 when I started there and suddenly I was floundering. Suddenly I was among those who were more than happy to have a one-day job standing in the hot sun and cold wind and pouring rain for hours on end just so they could get minimum wage for a few hours so they don’t miss a car payment or house payment. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t glamorous, but it was WORK and it bought me food, electricity and helped me pay my car payment. I went from being glad I could get the experience to being glad I could get the paycheck.

One of the PAs on set one day mentioned being glad she had another gig so fast after the first one. In fact, Michigan films were scrambling to have enough trained and capable PAs. She had actually left a film to work on this one because of better working conditions. NEVER before in Michigan had that been an option! Never before had there been an industry that was growing so fast that it needed MORE people to be trained and hired. Studios were opening, films were signing on, movie stars were hanging out at karaoke bars that my friends and I went to. It became the norm to find out that new stars were spotted in town.

Weeks ago, I was flush with pride and joy. I now had SAGe after my name. I had auditions for movies and TV shows that were filming HERE. In my backyard! Sometimes literally as my role in Machine Gun Preacher was filmed by my old high school. In fact, our holding area was my nephew’s school. My brother plays gigs at the bar we filmed a scene at. My sister’s boyfriend used to live over the bar we were at another day. It was local in every sense of the word. One day while I was getting my hair and makeup touched up, a PA came around with a menu for a local sub shop. Sure, we had on-site catering, but this place was down the street and was FANTASTIC and they wanted to order from there that day. This meant that not only did the catering company get work that day, the sub shop had a HUGE order placed by about 14 people on set. Yet somehow, these things get overlooked when people talk about the film incentives. The driver of the van that would take us from basecamp to set mentioned having to get gas. But I guess the gas station’s income on that transaction isn’t important, either. The point is, there are areas that people aren’t looking at when it comes to the stimulus sparked by the incentive program. Sure, hotels and catering are briefly mentioned as they are the big ticket items, but what about the drug stores where PAs run for more sunscreen because they ran out? What about the gas station across the street that the wardrobe assistant runs to in order to buy some gum and a pop? It might be small transactions here and there, but should they be overlooked entirely?

So here I am, SAGe after my name on my resume, halfway hoping I don’t get a role that forces me to join the union and keeps me from doing non-union roles, and halfway hoping I have to join because there are films that want local Michigan actors. I hope that many of my friends who spent time and money being retrained for this industry aren’t forced to move. After all, it would be rather fiscally foolish of the State of Michigan to spend all the money retraining people for an industry that they’re shutting down, forcing them to move out of the state and never pay back into the taxes that paid for their education, right?

Perhaps we’re going about this all wrong. Maybe the film industry should file for Chapter 11 and ask for billions of dollars in order to get the government, state and federal, to rally behind them and shove money at them.

Until then, I’ll be collecting unemployment when I could be working. Granted, it might just be a one or two day job at a time, but isn’t ANY money I don’t have to collect from the state a good thing? Meanwhile, as the film industry crumbles, I continue plugging away at my primary industry where several months of pavement pounding and undercutting my previous salary still isn’t helping me get hired.

If Michigan is going to hinder any industry, film or otherwise, how are we going to stay afloat when all our money goes into government bailouts and unemployment?

I welcome any discussion or ideas on the topic.

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The skinny on the skinny jeans

It was like a dream world. Racks of clothes, lines of shoes and two attentive people discussing how nice my rear looked in a pair of super tight skinny jeans. But of course the jeans were too long, the boots didn’t fit and the super ‘omg please let me have that’ tank top was swapped out for a different one that shows ‘maximum cleavage.’

No, it wasn’t a scene from a makeover show, it was me this morning at a fitting for my latest film project. I play a Biker Chick. Seriously. That’s my character’s name! Pretty descriptive.

I admit, I was a little nervous going in. I had no idea what they were going to dress me in. I assumed jeans (since Lisa, the Awesome Asst. Costumer, had asked me about sizes and brands of jeans) and possibly something leather since I was, after all, a biker chick.

It’s strange seeing a rack of clothes picked out just for me by people who haven’t met me before. There’s some sort of art to determining a person’s body type from a picture, and Lisa and Frank pretty much NAILED it. Here’s a note: you can often tell a lot about a production by the people working behind the scenes. A lot of the time, the costumers are tired and borderline cranky when they get to the extras, and that’s been the only time I’ve had to deal with a real wardrobe department in the past. The indie stuff I tend to do is usually one person doing costumes rather than a whole department. E-Von, who did the costumes for The 6th Extinction is amazing, but mostly it was ‘Here, put this sweatshirt on and get some mom-jeans from Walmart’ as his talents were really put to use for the Horsemen costumes (which were so awesome that they put my awesomeness to shame!).

So I walked in and waited for a few minutes and Lisa and Frank came out and took me into the room where I would put on some clothes for them to see. The first item? A pair of jeans.

When I say a pair of jeans, I actually MEAN a pair of skin-tight painted-on skinny jeans in a drab grey color that there’s no way in hell my legs were ever going to fit in because I have this little thing called thighs and I have calf muscles that put Olympians to shame. There’s no way these things are gonna go on. But I had to give it a go anyway, so after being handed a cute tank top an a pair of boots to go with it, I was left alone to figure out how to pry myself into this denim trap.

Slooooowly I was able to slide the jeans up my legs, though they really were painted-on tight. Got them over the calves, up to the knees, past my thighs– wait, I got them all the way up! And I buttoned them without a problem. FRANK! LISA! How did you guys DO IT? Just please don’t wash them in hot water or dry them on high heat or I’ll never get into them!

I admit, I was a bit smug for a moment. I got on this super cute pair of skinny jeans! They were just right, too. They didn’t make my legs look like sausages waiting to bust out of their casing or anything. I fell a little bit in love with those jeans. Then I threw on the tank top and sat down to tug on the boots. Only the top of the boots were soooo narrow, I couldn’t even get my feet into them. Which sucks because they were super cute and I had to make my sad face about them not fitting. So I padded out in my cute skull socks to see what they thought.

Frank made the twirling motion with his hand so I turned around and he suddenly declared that I have a FANTASTIC ass. My ass is amazing, he said in glee. I felt my face turn twenty seven shades of purple and red that have possibly never been seen outside of Photoshop’s neon color palette. It was decided that the tank top made me look too sweet and cute, so we swapped it for this epic one that was black and laced up. If I had to be reincarnated as a tank top, it would totally be this one. It took about five minutes for Frank to lace me into it, but it was sooo worth it. Threw on a black leather vest over it and I was suddenly a biker chick. Everyone was happy, but Frank decided he wanted to see one more tank top just to try it. So I took off the cute black one (glanced at the price tag which was more than I spend on groceries in a week!) and tugged on a grey one.

Wow. It was… uhm… low cut. Suddenly I wished I had worn a super cute bra, since my industrial strength ‘Hi I have a pretty big rack and it takes a lot of fabric to make my chest defy gravity in this way’ bra is not the cutest thing in the world but was suddenly partially on display for the world to see. It was decided that the girls must be shown to full advantage, so I’m gonna wear the grey top and we’d need to get me a super cute gravity-defying bra to go with it. Plus boots that fit.

They grabbed a pair of men’s boots to put me in so they could fit the length of the pants. And the tank top had to be taken up a bit, too. There was even an on-site seamstress who was busy hemming clothes just outside my makeshift dressing room. Aside from prom and my bridesmaid’s dress, I’ve never had clothes tailored to me, let alone a tank top and pair of jeans! I felt all special.

And honestly, that’s the important part. The production people there weren’t just nice, they made me feel special. I didn’t feel like some pretender who someone made the mistake of allowing on set. I felt like they were there just for me and me alone. It was a good feeling. Unusual, but good! I can’t say enough about the wonderful people I’ve encountered so far at their production offices.

Anyway, that’s my adventures in clothing for the day. Enjoy!

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I am a typography nerd.

Last night I finally got to see the film Helvetica. I’d been wanting to see it for a while, but somehow kept missing it. However, it was definitely worth the wait.

Now, I am at heart a graphic designer and a total typography geek. I’m forever aware of the type around me and I catch myself analyzing the choices that designers make in not just the typeface that they use, but the way it’s presented. The color, the shape, the placement, all of it. So I knew that I would enjoy an entire documentary about the evolution of graphic design and the part that a particular font has played in it. What I did not expect was my very much NOT a design-minded husband enjoying it almost as much as I did.

It was very fun to see it through his eyes, with his comments of how unaware he was of the design in even a simple street sign. It’s something that I’m aware of constantly. It’s similar to a filmmaker watching a movie and seeing the underlying choices that were made. Most of all, it gave him a glimpse into my world and why yes it IS normal to spend an hour choosing the kerning on a font for a simple business logo design.

Anyway, the documentary is very well put together. The subject matter might sound boring, but it’s presented in a very visually compelling manner and it doesn’t lag at all. The filmmakers traveled to quite a few locations and one thing that you realize is how connected the whole world is by design. No matter the language, the presentation of an idea can invoke certain responses based simply on human nature. It’s quite interesting how they break it down and each designer interviewed brings a new approach to the matter.

So is this about an hour and a half of people droning on about a font that was created in the 50s? Nope, not at all. It touches on graphic design in general, typography more in depth and gives you the history and the reality of how our world is surrounding us with type constantly. It’s interesting even to people who aren’t designers. I highly recommend it.

I rate it four Haas Neue Grotesks out of five.

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New meaning of Lunatics…

Last night I took Princess J to see New Moon. It made me feel old when I realized I was checking out Edward’s dad more than I was checking out the main two guys.

The throng of fangirls didn’t seem too pleased with my t-shirt. Somehow, I still managed to make it out alive.

A full review will come later, but for now I have to share one amusing moment.

I turned to R, leaned in and whispered, “At least this dialogue isn’t quite as bad as the first one.” And as I leaned back over to my own side, Jacob yells out “It’s about to get UGLY IN HERE!” and at the same time we both said “Or not…”

That’s one thing about being a screenwriter. I really pay attention to dialogue now.

As far as story goes, not a whole lot really happens in this movie. A boy breaks up with a girl and leaves town. Girl finds out that her best friend (who happens to be a really ripped, kinda hot guy) and her might have a little something going on, but it’s going to take her time to get over the guy that left. She mopes (for months and months) and one day she snaps out of it and returns to the world of the living, just in time to get mixed up with the guy who left all over again. Oh and he sparkles so I guess that must count for something, right?