News Story

Hollywood Transforms Itself to Milk Multiple States for Movie Money

'Transformers' movie series got millions from taxpayers in Michigan, Illinois and Florida

When the third "Transformers" movie was shot in Michigan in 2010, then-Michigan Film Office Director Carrie Jones boasted of the state’s "one-of-a-kind locations" during the filming.

However, Michigan wasn’t the only state paying for that feeling.

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" also spent $24 million for filming 30 days in Illinois and received about $7.6 million in film tax subsidy money from our neighbor state. The movie also got another $621,000 from Florida's film office for eight days of filming in which it spent $2.4 million. That was on top of the $6.1 million it received from Michigan taxpayers for spending $16.1 million in the state.

The third Transformers movie grossed $1.1 billion worldwide in 2011 and had a $195 million budget, according to

The Michigan Film Office announced Wednesday that "Transformers 4" has been approved for $20 million in film incentives for projected spending of about $82 million in the state.

However, Chicago also is boasting of being the location for where the film is being shot.

Leon Drolet, chair of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said movie makers are never loyal "to who bought them dinner."

"The film credit program sells itself as a match-making opportunity where you can connect for a productive and long-term relationship," Drolet said. "In reality, it is like a Craigslist hookup."

There have been few details on the plot of the fourth Transformers movie, but the third film in the series was panned by the website, Rotten Tomatoes, with a 36 percent rating

"This could finally be the film that embarrasses legislators so much that they eliminate the film incentive," Mackinac Center for Public Policy Fiscal Policy Analyst James Hohman said, jokingly.

Hohman said Michigan's tax dollars used for movies would be better served on fixing roads.

"These productions are huge endeavors, but there’s no good reason for taxpayers across the country to spend on a movie that’s going to be made regardless of taxpayer money," Hohman said.

The Michigan Film Office said filming for "Transformers 4" will begin in the spring in metro Detroit. The $20 million in taxdollars will reportedly result in 368 Michigan workers hired, according to the film office.

"It speaks volumes about all Michigan has to offer that Transformers is returning once again to our state," Margaret O’Riley, director of the Michigan Film Office, said in a press release. "This project will shine another bright spotlight on Michigan and provide tremendous opportunities for our cast, crew and support services."

The Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency did an analysis of the film subsidy program a few years ago. For the fiscal year covering 2010-11, it found that the program brought $13.5 million worth of benefit at a cost of $125 million.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning economic think tank, reviewed the literature on state film subsidy and tax rebate programs and found that claims that they are worth the cost are almost unanimously "more fiction than fact."

Kurt Weiss, spokesman for the state's budget office, said Gov. Rick Snyder has recommended that the state offer $25 million in film subsidies in 2014. Last year, Gov. Snyder recommended the same, but the Legislature increased it to $50 million. 

"At this point in the budget process for 2014, we are not sure where it will settle," Weiss said.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.