Picture-perfect Michigan featured on the big screen

Chelsea Gale, an intern at Quicken Loans in the First National Building, viewed filming of “Need for Speed” from a fifth-story window.

Picture-perfect Michigan has long been a hot spot for several Hollywood and independent films.

Over the years, tax incentives increased the state’s movie production. However, that’s not the only reason film companies are drawn to Michigan. Pure ambiance has made the Great Lakes State a preferred backdrop for several films.

Michigan provides a natural backdrop to just about any kind of movie, boasting the best of both worlds — nature’s finest beaches and woodlands and big cityscapes of Grand Rapids and Detroit. The setup for producers is already set up.

West Michigan in the Hollywood glamour

A new independent film, “Beyond the Dark,” was filmed earlier this month in Grand Rapids and nearby Cedar Springs, Rockford, Sand Lake and Wyoming.

Michigan native Ross Scharphorn returned from Los Angeles with fellow Northview High School classmate and childhood friend Matt Grzeskak to direct the horror film, inspired by the classic television shows “Tales from the Crypt” and “Twilight Zone.” The duo began writing zombie and vampire scripts some time ago and stepped it up a notch to all-out terror stories.

“Beyond the Dark” — a conglomeration of eight horror stories wrapped into one full-length feature film — provided several jobs to locals as set builders, actors and soundtrack musicians.

Scharphorn is pleased with how well filming went and enjoyed the upbeat nature and support of people in the area.

“We had a blast shooting our independent film here in Grand Rapids,” he said. “The people around West Michigan are so enthusiastic about movies it really helped our filmmaking process to be smooth and fun.”

“Beyond the Dark” is scheduled to run mid-October through Halloween in theaters in the Grand Rapids area.

“A Matter of Faith” is filming this month in Grand Rapids at Cornerstone College and Aquinas College and “Dogman 2: Wrath of the Litter” will film this fall in Benzie County.

“These projects tap into the crew and creative talent we have throughout our state while highlighting many of the unique locations found in Grand Rapids and northern Michigan,” said Michigan Film Office (MFO) Director Margaret O’Riley in a press release.

Grand Rapids has been visited by many big-name actors, such as Kurt Russell (“Miracle”) and Bruce Willis (“Die Hard”). “The Genesis Code” — starring Oscar winners Ernest Borgnine and Louise Fletcher — was shot in Grand Rapids and Lowell and premiered August 2010 as part of the Grand Rapids Film Festival.

Other films in the works

The “Transformers 4” film crew was in Michigan last month for a two-day filming in Adrian and then on Coast Guard ship Bramble in Port Huron.
According to the Michigan Film Office, “Transformers 4” is expected to hire 368 Michigan workers.

“It speaks volumes about all Michigan has to offer that Transformers is returning once again to our state,” said O’Riley. “This project will shine another bright spotlight on Michigan and provide tremendous opportunities for our cast, crew and support services.”

“Need for Speed” — scheduled to be released next spring — gave the Campus Martius area in downtown Detroit a little Hollywood flavor last month.

The commotion of a high-speed chase — involving a cop car in pursuit of a revved up silver Mustang with blue racing stripes — kept office workers running to the window throughout filming, according to Chelsea Gale. Gale, an intern at Quicken Loans in the First National Building, viewed the scene from a fifth-story window.

“I never knew all of what downtown Detroit had to offer until I started my summer internship at Quicken Loans,” she said. “The atmosphere is always upbeat and exciting, particularly in the Campus Martius area. It was really cool having a bird’s eye view of the filming of ‘Need for Speed.’”

Notable productions

Many films shot in Michigan are unfamiliar, but some are notable productions.

Well-known Michigan-filmed movies include both “Beverly Hills Cop” (1984) and “Beverly Hills Cop II” (1987), starring Eddie Murphy; “Midnight Run” with Robert Deniro (1987); “Presumed Innocent” with Harrison Ford (1989); “Die Hard II” with Bruce Willis (1990); “Renaissance Man” with Danny Devito (1994), “Flirting with Disaster” with Ben Stiller (1995); “Out of Sight” with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez (1998); “Escanaba in Da Moonlight” (2000); “8 Mile” with Eminem (2001); “Four Brothers” (2005); “Dreamgirls” (2006) with Eddie Murphy; “Transformers” at an abandoned train station in Detroit (2006); “Semi Pro” with Will Ferrell in Flint (2007); “The Karate Kid” (2010) and “Oz the Great and Powerful” (2013).

“American Pie” (1999), although shot in California, has ties to Michigan. Much of the film centers on the writer’s days at East Grand Rapids High School. When they go to the beach in “American Pie 2,” the air shot is actually of Grand Haven, not of the ocean.

Scenes from Steven Spielberg’s “Road to Perdition” (2002), starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, was filmed along the shores of Lake Michigan in South Haven.

Michigander pride

Michiganders take pride in seeing their city or state on the big screen, whether it’s Grand Rapids, Detroit, rolling dunes and sandy beaches along Lake Michigan or the stunning Upper Peninsula in its awesome splendor.

Filming in Michigan goes back many years, with the Victorian charm of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island prominently used in “This Time for Keeps” (1947) and

“Somewhere in Time” (1980), which still has a fan club that dresses up in Victorian clothing and meets at Grand Hotel each October.

Clif Randall and Niki Battjes-Randall visit Mackinac Island every year, including last New Year’s Eve for the “turtle drop,” the equivalent to New York City’s “big apple” dropping for the New Year’s Eve countdown.

An avid runner and outdoor enthusiast, Niki loves everything about northern Michigan, especially the Mackinac area. “Somewhere in Time” was a must-see since she loves the Island so much.

According to Niki, there are pictures from the movie hanging in certain parts of the Island that show the exact scene shot in that location and a store dedicated to trinkets and memorabilia.

These Hollywood flicks have helped establish the Island’s days gone by theme and has attracted — and continues to attract — thousands of people from around the world to the quaint U.P. island.

“There’s a huge push for new builders to continue with the Victorian style of architecture,” she said. “It’s fun to do an Old Time Photo and dress up in the Victorian hats and large dresses, which makes for a lovely souvenir.”

Recent legislative incentives

Over the years, legislative incentives have aimed to draw movie companies to Michigan.

Michigan’s 2008 film incentives package gave a whopping 42 percent tax credit for production expenses with additional rewards for hiring Michigan residents, for example.

Film expenditures, according to an Associated Press article, increased from $125 million to an estimated $223.6 million between 2008 and 2009 as big-name Hollywood production companies brought films like “Gran Torino” and “Up in the Air” to Michigan.

However, Governor Snyder felt the tax breaks were too generous, open-ended and didn’t warrant such a high tax incentive. Michigan’s 2012 budget got rid of the 42 percent tax credit and, instead, put a $25 million cap on film incentives.

Following this drastic cut, film lobbyists pushed for reconsideration. Although not as liberal as the initial rebates, Michigan’s 2013 budget doubled the allowance, setting aside an additional $25 million of one-time funding.

For a list of movies filmed in Michigan, go online to www.michiganfilmoffice.org/Made-in-Michigan/Film/Default.aspx.

Leave a Comment