The film industry is groovy and growing in Metro Detroit

Brett Wheat

In the past few years many in the Motor City have tried to use film to change the Rust Belt image to one that shines like Tinsel Town. Despite the shrinking of the Michigan state incentive a few years back, the dream still pushes on.

untitledWhen the incentives shrunk in Michigan, the state and, especially the state’s major urban area Metro Detroit, where hit.  The studios brought jobs to local caterers, restaurants, carpenters, technicians, and many other industries and many of those dried up.  Disney studios even pulled out of setting up a permanent locale in the area.  Still, Detroit had a taste for film and couldn’t let it go.

Michiganders love film,” says Brett Wheat, a local cinematographer and head of Wheat Films LLC. “The cool thing about it is if you go to a business and ask to use a facility for a film they’re like, ‘Yeah we’d love to be in a movie.'”

Wheat has worked on a number of projects, everything from a commercial for an iPhone app called “Wake Up Alarm Clock” to movies like “A Dog for Christmas,” which will come out later this year and stars former TV Superman Dean Cain and Saved by the Bell’s Screech himself Dustin Diamond.

The earliest jobs for Wheat came with help from the local Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts, where he received a scholarship. Keeping the early local aid he received in mind, Wheat often will call up people he already knows to help him on jobs.  Of course, not every slot can easily be filled by an acquaintance in the field that is where social media comes in.

Wheat has not only found people to work with through websites like Facebook and Twitter, he has also been discovered by people who are looking for a job that he can do.  It is not only vital to his career, but Wheat said social media is a major player in Detroit film as a whole.

The glow of the movie world has not blinded Wheat. He still holds a healthy respect for the part of the world he was raised in.

Brett Wheat

Brett Wheat

Wheat went on stage at a release party for the first 3D music video for the band Chaos Rain, and told the crowd a portion of the already collected proceeds was going to the Northville Police Department.  That was technically true because the money would be going to pay off a ticket they received for trespassing during Wheat’s “guerilla film making” at an abandoned hospital in the suburb.  Still, it did support the area.

Paying off fines and helping locals find jobs is great for Detroit but Wheat has taken his commitment to the city even farther. He stood up to Hollywood big names in the name of Detroit itself.

While working on a film directed by Ryan Gosling, Wheat noticed the large amount of focus on “ruin porn.” As we all know, it is not uncommon for out-of-towners to want to focus on the dilapidated and abandoned parts of Motown.

While Wheat admits to finding it interesting, he also finds it tiresome.  So as filming went on he suggested to Gosling other parts of the city to see and shoot that reflect a better view of Detroit.

People focus on the bad part of Detroit, but there is a lot of cool stuff there, too,” Wheat said.

The educational community has also taken advantage of the rise in interest in the world of film. In 2008, Wayne State University’s Emery King and the University of Michigan’s Jim Burnstein got together and came up with the idea for The Michigan Creative Film Alliance. King, who is also chairman of the Michigan Film Advisory Council, and Burnstein then brought in Michigan State University. goal of the Michigan Creative Film Alliance is to keep young filmmakers in the state to produce their films.

Every year the three schools come together to create a film that uses students from each school for all the production work.  Which students are chosen is entirely in the hands of the film programs at each school and the faculty decides which students would best fill each roll.

Uptown Film FestivalThe most current work, “Downriver,” has been nominated for the Uptown Film Festival in Birmingham. This three-day event shows more than 100 films to more than 5000 film enthusiasts. The audience includes industry professionals from the Detroit area, Los Angeles, around the world, local and regional film fans, and a large student population.

One of the things Wayne State brings to the program is a focus on producing.  This specialty of the schools film program has been pushed forward and grown largely because of the department head Juanita Anderson,lecturer and director of Film and Digital Media Initiatives at the school. She has a strong history in film and won the George Foster Peabody Award and a DuPont Columbia Silver Baton for excellence in broadcast journalism.

Wayne State draws in many people to its undergraduate programs because there are so many opportunities for internships in the region.

Wayne also has a relationship with Henry Ford Community College.  Every summer many full-time students from Wayne enroll in classes at Henry Ford to help round out their education. The link between the two may come because many of the instructors are Wayne grads.  It also acts as a stepping stone to Wayne. Many HFCC students continue on to WSU after their two-year stint at Henry Ford is done.

Also adding to the educational roll in film is Madonna University in Livonia, which has workshops for students. The workshops have the students learn from mentors who already work in the field. This system allows the students to go beyond the lesson plans and benefit from the real world of those currently in the field.  The mentors volunteer their time and often include Brett Wheat, who teaches his unique perspective on the business.

Detroit is certainly sinking its teeth still deeper into the film industry.

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One comment on “The film industry is groovy and growing in Metro Detroit

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