Screen Writing Basics
Michigan may be best known for its auto industry, its college football teams, and its contributions to the art of office-furniture manufacture. The fact is, though, that this mitten-shaped Upper Midwestern state has made great contributions to American arts and culture-and all sorts of positive signs, from the growth of downtown Grand Rapids to the sudden explosion in Detroit-based visual arts, suggest that Michigan plans to remain one of the cultural capitals of the United States.
And that place is well-earned. After all, this is the state where Motown Records was founded, where punk rock pioneer Iggy Pop, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, and author Nelson Algren hail from, where the classic Anatomy of a Murder was filmed, and where Ernest Hemingway set his first published story. Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Gilda Radner, and Lily Tomlin were all born here, Elmore Leonard calls the state home, and Sufjan Stevens made his name as the leader of West Michigan-based band Marzuki.
Michigan has an important place in film history, too. It provides backdrop for such films as The Evil Dead, Four Brothers, Grosse Pointe Blank, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, RoboCop, and 8 Mile. A recent bill enacted by the Michigan legislature ensures that the Wolverine State will continue attracting quality film productions, luring famous and unknown film artists alike with a forty-percent across-the-board refundable tax credit, a loan program, and other goodies. (A complete list and application are available from the Michigan Film Office.) This incentives package, coupled with the state’s unique geographic diversity that allows it to “stand in” for many kinds of locations (urban, mountainous, forested, coastal), makes Michigan one of the most attractive possible shooting locations in the United States. But filmmakers should also note the state’s lively film-festival calendar-a mere sampling of which is provided below.
In the Detroit area alone, we have a plethora. Royal Oak offers the results of the innovative 48 Hour Film Project every July, after teams of Detroit-area filmmakers spend a forty-eight hour period writing, shooting, editing and scoring an entire film, using just a prop, line of dialogue, character, and genre which must be included in the film. Similar projects are done in fifty-four other cities from around the world, and Detroit’s version features robust participation from area filmmakers.
And in December there’s Dearborn’s Annual Arab Film Festival, hosted by the Arab American National Museum. Given the impact that filmmakers from Arab cultures have had on the art form in recent years-Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami is regularly acclaimed as one of the great artists of world cinema, and films from the region are often cited as influences by such directors as Werner Herzog and Michael Haneke-this is one festival not to miss, since today’s Arab film festival entry may be tomorrow’s influential new classic.
Other possibilities for the discerning Michigan cineaste include the long-running Ann Arbor Film Festival. The lower-Michigan city of Ann Arbor is something of a regional cultural capital-it supports one of the world’s best research universities in the University of Michigan, and it has all the bookstores and museums you’d expect of such a place-so it’s no surprise that it’s also the home of one of the oldest, best-established, and most vital film festivals in the country, which continues to attract artistic experimenters from all over the world. Early work by Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas, Andy Warhol, and Gus Van Sant, among others, has appeared at this festival (one of Variety’s top ten “Festivals We Love”); it’s the place to catch works by tomorrow’s trendsetting young film directors-today.
For filmmakers and their personnel visiting any of the above festivals (and many more every year in places such as Traverse City, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Mt. Pleasant), the state offers an excellent transit infrastructure experienced in handling film and television productions. For example, Checker Sedan-the company that most recently handled transportation for SuperBowl XL, and the official transportation provider for the Detroit Metro Airport-has years of experience in dropping off dailies, picking up stars, and every other kind of work associated with film and television production.