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“Oogieloves” Producer Loves Michigan
By Kim Cekola
Well-known Hollywood producer prepares to head to Michigan to film a movie, lured by the state’s film tax incentives. Michigan? Detroit? He is apprehensive…maybe even dreading it. Then the unexpected happens. He is blown away. There is an unexpected beauty and diversity of the landscape. The talented, hard-working crews take him by surprise. The people are a delight. He is so impressed that he wants to make his next movie here.
The producer is Kenn Viselman, the creative marketing force behind children’s shows such as the Teletubbies and Thomas the Tank Engine. His new venture, an interactive song and dance movie for pre-schoolers called “The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure,” was filmed on closed sets in Farmington Hills, Utica, and Holland. Considering that Kenn Viselman is involved—a man with the reputation for taking a concept and turning it into gold—the movie industry is foaming with curiosity. The Review was fortunate enough to interview Mr. Viselman and hear his perspective on making a movie in Michigan.
Kim Cekola: How did you find out about Michigan’s Film tax incentives?
Kenn Viselman: Unless you’ve crawled under a rock, you know. When I first heard about them, I was fascinated. I like to refer to them as “production” credits. Governor Granhom is very brave and smart as the driving force to make this happen. Michigan was among the lowest economically in the nation. Now it is infused with possibility and excitement. What were dormant buildings are now being snatched up for filming. This could be a real turnaround for your state.
KC: What do you think Michigan could do to make itself a destination for film companies in the future?
KV: It will happen naturally, on its own. Once Clint Eastwood decided to make a movie here, others followed.
I think it’s a shame that all anyone hears about Michigan is bad news coming out of Detroit. You don’t see the beauty, the texture of the state. You need to do something to show how beautiful Michigan is.
KC: Have you seen our Pure Michigan marketing campaign?
KV: No—but it should be aired in Hollywood and New York, where people who make movies live.
KC: Would you consider filming another movie here?
KV: Not only would I consider it, but I am reconfiguring my next film so it can be filmed in Michigan instead. I expected filming here would be a hassle, but it wasn’t. I thought that there would be a huge learning curve—but there wasn’t.
Michigan has the second most coastline in the U.S, and the diversity of locations is amazing. There are a lot of stories you could tell here.
KC: How do Michigan film crews compare to others you have worked with?
KV: They are the most hard working, jubilant people I have ever worked with. I am highly impressed. Michael Jones is the best location scout in Michigan.
The Review was also fortunate to interview Michael Jones about scouting locations and filmmaking in Michigan. As the Michigan location scout for “Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure,” Michael was responsible for finding locations that met the aesthetic needs of the script, then securing those locations for filming.
Kim Cekola: What does it mean to be a film location scout?
Michael Jones: Before becoming a film location scout, I was a scout for commercials and advertisements. I was a big proponent of Michigan then, and still am. When the economy hit the skids, commercial and ad worked petered out. I would have been forced to leave Michigan, to find a job out of state. I am happy to have segued into film location scouting—moviemaking in Michigan will provide thousands of jobs for people like me who otherwise would have abandoned Michigan.
I see my job mainly as community relations. I knock on doors, I call people. If a residential home has a porch that looks like the porch in the script, I will check out the neighborhood, drive the streets during different hours of the day, then knock on the door and ask if we can film in their house. If a park has the amenities needed in the script, I find out who has jurisdiction then contact them. I am the first point of contact with municipal governments.
In Holland, filming on Windmill Island during the Tulip Festival, I talked to about 60 percent of the visitors who were turned away from seeing the windmill (Oogieloves maintained a closed set). The people were understanding, and actually happy to hear that a movie was being filmed in Holland.
KC: What do you look for first in a location?
MJ: The ultimate criterion is looks, aesthetics. The Stony Creek site (Stony Creek Metro Park in Shelby Township) satisfied five criteria of the script in the one location, which was great. The next would be whether the site is accessible for equipment. On this set, they brought in crews of 90-150 people. I think, “Can I bring 14 trailers and necessary equipment in? Is there parking? Is there water nearby?” If there is no parking or water nearby, then it is an additional cost to the production. Once I’ve identified a site, I go knock on doors. If I can’t get a response in 24-48 hours, then I have to move on. As incredible as it sounds, the “Oogieloves“ script called for a windmill and tulips. Well, Michigan had that! The city of Holland was incredible, and timing couldn’t have been worse for them—during tulip time.
KC: What would you like to tell local governments who want to be film-friendly?
MJ: You need to designate one person at city hall to handle film requests. You need to have a one-stop shop. I should be able to get my requests to one person, not the police chief and the mayor and the council three weeks later when they have a meeting. If you really want to be welcoming, even inviting of film crews, you have to be able to respond in 24-48 hours with a yes or no. And having a faxable permit is golden.
KC: What do you want to say to local officials?
MJ: Please support the film industry. It could generate 2,500-3,000 jobs. These are not transplants. Early film productions brought crews to Michigan because they didn’t think we had the talent. They weren’t aware that we were known for commercial work. For “Oogieloves,” about 90 percent of the crew was from Michigan. In addition, the screenwriter is from St. Clair Shores and the executive producers are from Macomb Township.
Part of the beauty of filmmaking is the money the production brings to local economies. The “Oogieloves” production made business cards and each person involved in the movie was handed a huge stack. Every time they spent money, whether for a tube of toothpaste at CVS or dinner and drinks at a bar/restaurant, they left a card to show that this film was bringing money into the local economy (i.e. Farmington Hills, Utica, and Holland).
I have several tips for local governments. The first is not to make permit approval contingent on the content of the movie. Second, you should be somewhat concerned about housing in your area. To keep costs under control, we look for places that can offer housing within 30 miles of base. My third tip is a parting comment—“if communities are known to be film-friendly, then we will go back there.”