Hey! Is that Brad Pitt in the Frozen Food Aisle?

Almost every argument in favor of film subsidies is wrong

In a recent column, Michigan Radio columnist Jack Lessenberry lamented the progress of a state House bill to terminate the state's subsidies to film producers.

ForTheRecord highlights and analyzes some of Lessenberry’s comments:

Lessenberry wrote: “They are about to kill the film industry in this state, a move I am convinced will hurt our economy in the long run and has already hurt our souls …. Thousands of jobs were created and enormous excitement generated.”

ForTheRecord says: From 2008 to 2014, the program has given some $500 million state taxpayer dollars to film producers. Michigan had 1,663 full-time “motion picture and video production” jobs in 2008, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2013 there were 1,561 of those jobs here. The nearly half a billion dollars had resulted in a net loss of 102 jobs. We're not sure how much that devastates your soul, but it gives us heartburn.

Lessenberry wrote: “People need both bread and roses in their lives, and for most of us, it was a big deal to see Clint Eastwood or Brad Pitt walking down the street or in your grocery store.”

ForTheRecord says: Did anyone actually ever see Brad Pitt inspecting the frozen pizzas? Was it worth half a billion dollars?

Lessenberry wrote: “I was in one small restaurant in West Bloomfield one night soon after Jack Nicholson had been there and had stopped by and said hello to every table. None of those people will ever forget that.”

ForTheRecord says: Jack Nicholson’s entry on the Internet Movie Database says he's been in two pictures since Michigan’s film subsidy program began in 2008, “How Do You Know” and “I’m Still Here.” Neither was filmed in Michigan, according to IMDb. So apparently film subsidies had nothing to do with Nicholson shaking the hands of common folk one evening in West Bloomfield.

Lessenberry wrote: “I noted, however, that the film industry was a tremendous cultural asset, and that the highly reviewed Gran Torino had just been made here.”

ForTheRecord says: The 2010 film “Machine Gun Preacher” was also shot in Michigan but probably won't be described as a “cultural asset” (it has a 29-percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes). For every Gran Torino, there are many other movies made here that are like “Trust.” Anyone see that movie? We haven't either. It starred David Schwimmer from the TV show “Friends” and made $120,000 at the box office in 2011. Michigan taxpayers paid its producers $3 million. An average theater ticket price of $8 suggests just 15,000 people nationwide paid to see this movie. The state film office could have served taxpayers better by paying the movie producers a smaller amount to not make it.

Lessenberry wrote: “Based on conversations I've had, I'm convinced that a lot of Republican legislators hate the film credit because they think they are going to a bunch of Hollywood left-wing liberals.”

ForTheRecord says: State film subsidies mostly go to Hollywood movie companies. Michigan taxpayers gave $35 million to Warner Brothers to shoot parts of Batman v. Superman here last year (it may have also received subsidies from other states). In 2012, Warner Brothers had pre-tax earnings of $1.2 billion. Even left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore questioned the logic (which didn't prevent the producers of his “Capitalism: A Love Story” from taking over $800,000 from Michigan taxpayers). Incidentally, Lessenberry doesn't say whether any of those conversations were actually with Republican legislators.

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.