I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Justin Tiemeyer Presents 'Film Tourism'

Opportunities to Help Struggling Michigan Cities by Visiting the Places Where Your Favorite Movies Were Filmed

In 2014, Transformers 4 - AKA Untitled Transformers Sequel - will be heading into theaters, and if the success of Transformers (2007), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), and Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) is any indicator the fourth film in the series will be a box office hit. Residents of Michigan may be proud to find out that there is a piece of our state in this upcoming film, a former ferry named the Ste. Claire which is currently docked in Ecorse. The Ste. Claire is often referred to as a Boblo boat because it was created in order to transport Detroiters to and from the Boblo Island Amusement Park, which they viewed as their own version of New York's Coney Island. Boblo Island was closed down in 1993.

According to ship keeper Sam Buchanan, the Ste. Claire will play an important role in one scene of Transformers 4, not a grand shout out to Ecorse and the former amusement park but certainly not the type of thing that you will miss if you blink. It is clear that the municipality of Ecorse, which is currently understood to be in a state of financial emergency, was able to capitalize on the filming. The production crew for the film worked on the set for three weeks and filming took place over three days. Whether or not any of these workers were local is unclear, but it is a reasonable assumption that they acquired local food and lodging, not to mention the money that the people of Ecorse must have leveraged from Paramount pictures in order to have the film shot in their town.

On the tail of this announcement was an even larger announcement, that the Michigan Film Office has offered $35 million in incentives to Warner Bros. in order that the upcoming Batman vs. Superman film will be shot "in metro Detroit and elsewhere in Michigan," a decision that is expected to bring an extra $131 million into the Michigan economy. While many of the geeks of the world are unhappy at the announcement that Ben Affleck will play Batman, the geek in me is excited at the possibility of being an extra in a comic book movie much like my good friend Chad was in Green Lantern. But that is beside the point. This project will bring capital into the struggling city of Detroit and hopefully some of the other nearby emergency managed cities such as River Rouge and Allen Park.

It would be easy to sit back and hope that the struggling cities of Michigan will continue to get money through movie contracts, but sitting back and letting other people fix the problems simply does not work. I could go on a rant about activism and the importance of maintaining funding to the Michigan Film Office despite the complaints of many lawmakers in Lansing that it is an unnecessary expenditure, but I'd like to take this time and this space to discuss another possibility: Michigan film tourism.

Sure, when Amy and I ate here we knew it wasn't the
White Castle of Harold & Kumar fame, but did you
know that scenes from A Very Harold & Kumar
were shot in Detroit?
The Michigan Film Office has a list of the myriad films made in Michigan on their site which ranges from the This Time For Keeps to the 2013 film Black Sky. While you'll still have to drive to Dallas in order to see the future Detroit of Robocop, you can see the cabin from The Evil Dead in Gladwin or the factory from the opening shots of Beverly Hills Cop in Dearborn. When I lived in New York City, you could walk down the street on any given day and you might accidentally become an unpaid extra in a film. I remember walking behind comedian Jason Sudeikis as he walked from his trailer to the set of some film I never took the time to get the name of. We always talked about going out to visit the Amityville Horror house on Long Island or to do a Home Alone 2: Lost in New York tour of the city. There is no reason someone couldn't do a Detroit Rock City or 8 Mile tour of Detroit.
1946 film

The next time you plan your family vacation or birthday excursion, think about visiting Detroit. You can see the backdrops for some of your favorite films and help a struggling link in the chain of Michigan economics. Maybe you can get a hotdog at American Coney Island or see a Tigers game down in Foxtown while you're there - you don't have to make it about film. I believe that if enough of us find something interesting to do in Detroit or Flint or Pontiac as opposed to some other city in some other state or in some other country, the people of Michigan might not have to complain about financial woes for much longer and the children of Michigan won't have to move to other places on account of the fact that those places actually have a strong, functioning economy.

As for me, I just found out that Mark Wahlberg - one of the four actors whose movies I will watch despite of terrible reviews and trailers - was in Michigan for the shooting of the 2005 film Four Brothers. I think I might dedicate some time to seeing the places in Detroit where those four brothers drove around contemplating revenge. Hopefully, I'll come back with some dining recommendations.