Michigan might not have the glitz and glamor of New York or Hollywood but, for a time at least, it did have something they didn’t: the best film incentives in the country. Before a $25-million cap was announced by Governor Rick Snyder in 2011, Michigan filmmakers were getting up to 42% of their production costs back in tax rebates. Studios flocked to Michigan – in 2008 alone, 32 films were shot in the Mitten State, leading to a trove of well-known movies, some of which you may not have realized were made here. Here’s my take on the top five of those.
5. Transformers (2007)
Director: Michael Bay.
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro.
Synopsis: Everyone’s favorite maddeningly difficult childhood toys come to life in this action blockbuster. The noble Autobots and the villainous Decepticons do battle for the fate of the world.
Filmed in: Detroit.
Detroit’s magnificent architecture made a great showing in this summer smash hit of 2007. In one scene, the ever-twitchy Shia LaBeouf goes tearing through the Michigan Central Station train depot, the imposing Motor City landmark that was built 100 years ago this year. The building stands up to its punishment at the hands of the alien robots about as well as can be expected in a Michael Bay production.
4. Red Dawn (2012)
Director: Dan Bradley.
Starring: Chris Hemsorth, Josh Hutcherson, Isabel Lucas.
Synopsis: In this remake of the 1984 cult classic, a group of plucky high school students take to guerrilla warfare to defend their Spokane, WA, homes from North Korean invaders.
Filmed in: Royal Oak.
One of the biggest factors that drew Red Dawn to our lovely state is our… well, lovely state. The producers were looking for a place that had forests, hills, and the other natural features that Michigan has in abundance. When the film hits theaters in November this year, look out for Harper Woods High School as the new home of the Wolverines – the name which, in an interesting local coincidence, the heroes of the movie adopt for their band of warriors.
3. Scream 4 (2011)
Director: Wes Craven.
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette.
Synopsis: Ten years have passed since the events of the first Scream movie, and Sidney Prescott has finally gotten her life back in order. Naturally, Ghostface isn’t far behind…
Filmed in: Ann Arbor.
Many of the scenes were shot in Ann Arbor, but additional filming also took place in other towns in the area. A flashback sequence was shot at Woodworth Middle School in Dearborn, while the movie’s police station is actually the old 16th District Courthouse in Livonia. The bookstore featured is the Next Chapter Bookstore Bistro in Northville, a location that Wes Craven picked himself.
2. Up in the Air (2009)
Director: Jason Reitman.
Starring: George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, Vera Farmiga.
Synopsis: Ryan Bingham has a pretty empty life. It’s just as well when your job is to fly around the country firing people…
Filmed In: Romulus.
Up in the Air could have been filmed in any airport in the country, so it’s heartening to know that the movie business thinks highly enough of the Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus to have selected it for this honor. Next time you fly out of DTW, see if you recognize any of it from scenes in this production, especially in the Berry and McNamara terminals!
1. Whip It (2009)
Director: Drew Barrymore.
Starring: Ellen Page, Drew Barrymore, Kristen Wiig.
Synopsis: Ellen Page plays an indie kid misfit, but instead of getting knocked up she spends her days knocking other people down when roller derby becomes her small town Texas coping mechanism.
Filmed In: Detroit.
Not only was Whip It shot in Michigan, but local roller derby teams The Detroit Derby Girls, and the Grand Raggidy Roller Girls contributed skaters, lending authenticity to the film’s action scenes. You might also recognize Hamtramck High School, and I’m sure nobody’s surprised to hear that Michigan in July was able to do a passable imitation of Texas.
Of course, I’m only scratching the surface with this list – there have many other great movies made in Michigan, and hopefully there will be more soon. The Michigan Film Office has $58 million in grants and incentives to entice filmmakers back to the Mitten in 2013. Twice as much as we had in 2012, if only half what they doled out in 2010. If you’re interested in seeing what other titles you might recognize, check out the Michigan Film Office list of productions. I know I was surprised by some of the big names: surprised, and proud to call myself a Michigander.
Brian Murray – Feature Writer