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Empire Films in Michigan But Prefers to Stay in State

Entertainment companies will send out press releases about a lot of things but it was a first when one popped up in my inbox about scouting out-of-state locations for a feature film. Empire Film Group Inc. plans to do multiple film and television projects in Michigan to take advantage of that state’s tax credit program and a new studio facility. The Westlake Village-based production company certainly isn’t the first to head to the Wolverine State to film and be refunded 40 percent of all in-state expenditures. An extra 2 percent can be claimed for filming in cities and townships identified as core communities. It’s not as though Empire wouldn’t want to stay in California but the incentive is too good to pass up and besides some of the financing for their upcoming projects is coming from Michigan. Even with California now in its second year of offering its own filming tax incentives, productions are still willing to leave for a better deal. While not wanting to seem like I am picking on Empire, their president of production Jim Townsend did explain that the company’s preference would be to shoot locally because it is where the crews, performer and infrastructure can be found. Even with states that promote a trained below-the-line workforce, production companies still need to bring key people with them, Townsend said. “Our goal is to shoot more in California and not be away from our families for a long period of time,” Townsend added. A distributor as well as a production company, Empire has released its own titles and ones it acquired for limited theatrical runs and on DVD and Blu-ray discs. Empire is in negotiations with Tri-Vision Pictures and Unity Studios on the Michigan projects. Unity operates two soundstages, production offices and post-production suites in Detroit. To make good on the pledge to also film in California, Townsend plans to attend a seminar this summer about the state’s tax incentive program that has $100 million to dole out to qualified film and television projects. The latest numbers from FilmLA, the non-profit agency contracting with the city and county of Los Angeles and other governmental bodies to coordinate on location filming, are showing that the incentives are working, particularly for feature films. Permitted production days for features increased by 11 percent between April and June when compared to the same period in 2009. Sixteen feature projects receiving incentive funds made up more than 400 permitted production days during the quarter. A permitted production day is a crew filming a single project in a single location within a 24 hour period. FilmLA numbers are on location and do not include filming on studio soundstages. Overall, filming for features, television, commercial and other projects went up by 16 percent in the second quarter over a year ago. FilmLA also continues to work on its public awareness campaign on the importance of filming to the local economy and the jobs it provides to the below-the-line workers. Getting the campaign off the ground is taking longer than originally thought. Back in February FilmLA President Paul Audley estimated it would be ready by mid-April. Now the agency is looking to unveil it toward the end of the summer when television production kicks into high gear. New Record Label Songwriter and producer Toby Gad has started a new record label to keep young talent from getting lost in the shuffle at major record labels. Kite Records has signed two performers, Jessica Jarrell and Susan Justice, and Gad is always on the lookout for others. His strategy is to reduce the time given to the development process of a new artist and be able to go to a major label with a release in hand. Signing with a major label is stressful enough without then having to work on material. Typical of the music industry is an A&R person signs a new act and then is gone and plays no role in nurturing the artist they signed, Gad said. “We want to change that,” he continued. “If the creative is done first it is way more relaxed.” A child and teen performer in Europe, Gad arrived in New York City a decade ago and moved to the West Coast in 2009. He converted a house in Studio City into a recording studio where he works with both established and up-and-coming singers. He won a Grammy Award for his work on Beyonce’s “I am…Sasha Fierce” and was nominated for a Grammy for writing “Big Girls Don’t Cry” for Fergie. Gad described 15-year-old Jarrell as “a young Beyonce” while Justice falls into the singer songwriter category. In looking for new artists to sign to Kite, Gad receives tips from friends and music publishers. Videos on YouTube, he said, are a good way to initially judge a performer. PR Advice Luck Media and Marketing President Steve Levesque is featured in the print and online versions of Media Connection Magazine’s 21st Annual Directory of Everything Indie. The North Hollywood firm represents a large number of music industry clients, giving Levesque an experienced perspective of what a publicist can do for singers and bands. Levesque is quoted in the article as saying that it’s important in many cases to begin a PR campaign even before the release of a new recording. “The earlier, the better,” he said. “Then I can give them some input and help them develop a presence.” Staff Reporter Mark Madler can be reached at (818) 316-3126 or by e-mail at mmadler@sfvbj.com.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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