An Open Letter to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

CDI's DJ Perry

From DJ Perry, CEO of Collective Development Incorporated

Dear Governor Snyder,

I’m a lifelong resident of Michigan and have been CEO of the Lansing-based motion picture company Collective Development Inc. since 1996. I’m also an established actor, writer and producer who’s been taken as far as Costa Rica and even India in my endeavors. We’ve been making films for many years and have spent millions of dollars in communities across the country from Seattle, Washington to Little Rock, Arkansas to Maggie Valley, North Carolina to Richmond, Virginia. And yes, we spent large sums of money in our own state economy way before any film incentives existed.

As a matter of fact, at one time most of the state filmmakers could be counted one hand. Michigan created an infrastructure based upon a commercial industry driven by Michigan manufacturing. But the creative industry known as show business consistently overlooked Michigan. The film office used to be one woman trying to draw business to Michigan off some sad incentive that made certain companies exempt from sales tax on hotel stays over 30 days. WOW!

Runaway production to Canada, who had the strongest film incentives for over a decade, was a reality in the industry until states like New Mexico, Louisiana and Michigan awoke to the realization that BIG money flows with and in the wake of the motion picture industry.  I’m not a politically active person but I respect those who take on civil service. Our state incentives came at the right time because we as business owners were being faced with difficult decisions where it was becoming downright irresponsible not to shoot our films elsewhere using incentives and rebates. That kind of thinking lead to creatively sad choices where movies like “Detroit Rock City” were shot from across the waters in Canada and left CDI considering shooting a western-era film entitled “Wild Michigan” in New Mexico.

In all the arguments I hear being thrown around for the pros and cons of the rebate and incentives program in Michigan, I notice that one major factor is being left out.  DREAMERS. This was the kind of individual that drove Michigan at one time as Michigan phased from one industry to another. David Ward, once the richest man in Michigan, was a lumber baron and part of the timber industry that put Michigan on the map. Later, men like Henry Ford created a new industry off horseless carriages. American record producer Berry Gordy put Michigan on the map for Motown and had someone created the right incentives at the right time perhaps that industry would have survived longer in Michigan. I’ll get to my point.

All the studies and numbers being thrown around as to just how much the movie industry brings into the local economy factors the employed cast, crew and services of any given motion picture. The dreamer’s gold rush, as I deem it, represents the huge number of artists and business people flooding into the state to seek work in the alluring entertainment industry. People rush to entertainment portals like California and NYC  to seek their fortunes and fame. A thousand people may audition for a role taken by one person. To factor just what a production company pays that person overlooks the “cost of doing business” of the other 999 people. They probably filled a car with gas, stopped at a breakfast place, paid city parking and went for drinks afterward to express their hopes and worries of an audition or interview.

I get a huge amount of emails from seekers of employment who have relocated to Michigan so they can try to work in their dream industry.   People have to pay the “day-to-day” expenses to live and this in turn helps drive up the surrounding economy. Many of the newly hired individuals in local businesses are the newly relocated dreaming of being that next actor, production designer or composer while working as a postal worker, waiter or fitness instructor. If Michigan continues to provide the incentives to attract these projects to our state, or in my company’s situation making it a responsible choice to remain in our state, the dreamers will continue to come.

What future stars will rise FROM Michigan’s talent pool is yet to be seen but I can tell you that Michigan boasts many stars that are FORMERLY FROM Michigan. Most of those stars left to spend their hard-earned cash in other economies that supported opportunity for these dreamers to live their dreams.

Certain unrealistic perceptions and shortsighted views held by some in this state will kill rather than create a new industry. Certain law makers helped clear the way for the emerging lumber industry where it was once said that a squirrel could travel from one side of the state to the other and never touch the ground. These same lawmakers were wise enough to slow when the ecosystem had been pushed far enough. Other lawmakers were wise enough to see the efforts of emerging inventors and their horseless carriages before another state did. Did Motown get the attention and state incentive support to remain in the Motor City? I saw a lack of vision by lawmakers to support new emerging industry in Michigan until recently with our aggressive film incentives.

The entertainment industry continues to grow year after year. In times of economic downturn, entertainment escapism such as movies will remain high or even grow. The fact that we (as a state) have an opportunity to invest in a recession-proof industry is amazing. However, for those in independent film, the industry has seen financing shrink since the fall of 2008 and for many, projects  have been harder to get off the ground. As the economy is improving, now is not the time to cut the incentives. The state has only just begun to see the impact the incentives can have on our economy.

The fact that a few loud voices cry out against such a pattern of growth shows me that wisdom does not exist in government as it once did at least in regards to the nurturing of innovative and emerging industry. Had Michigan’s lawmakers let some other state outbid it in the early stages of the auto industry maybe Virginia could have been the car capital of the world. Maybe Motown would have been O-Town taking root in some Ohio town. I think you get the point I’m making.

We are going to keep making movies wherever it makes the most sense. I’ve decided to keep Michigan my home because it is a beautiful state with the finest folks. As a businessman and company we can easily be responsible and travel to whatever state makes sense. I would like to see that be our own state and I know many, many people who also love to see Michigan continue to nurture our new industry.

I’m told you are a good man who might listen to some reason on this subject so I’ve taken the time to write you my thoughts. I don’t like to see the state suffer and I’ve fought the backwater reputation some people have tried to pin on Michigan. We need to have government officials that work with the visionary dreamers. It is that relationship that this great state was built upon.  We’ve seen industry wax and wane through the years and grow through several incarnations as new opportunity presented itself. This foundation of a new industry needs to be embraced and not fought against. Especially by folks who need to take ten steps back and look at a bigger picture. Michigan grew from the wilderness it once was by leadership. That is what is required now as Michigan once again finds itself in an economic wilderness. It needs trailblazers. Is that you Rick? Perhaps. I hope I’ve presented this in the best way I know how. I wish you much success on your journey. Seek wisdom.

DJ Perry, CEO
Collective Development Incorporated

“The man who has no imagination has no wings”
– Muhammad Ali

For more ramblings from DJ, check out his blog Clawing My Way to the Middle.


1 Comment

  1. I share your same views. I am FULL blooded Michigan. Born, raised and lived here all my life. This Beautiful State is full of Creativity, Compassion and Commitment. I too am dedicated in seeing the day when the world will see and honor what we do. If it be by government then let us be rest assured. If not by government then by us, who in the same spirit of Michiganders before us, embrace this dream even the more. Maybe that’s why it’s been so short lived; it’s been the support to one dreamer. Maybe it’s the networking of many dreamers themselves creating their own support network that will make this reality generational. Thank You for speaking up for the rest of us who are trying to start from the bottom up! Clarence Koan, Rock Solid Studios Entertainment, Inc. Flint Michigan

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