'Low Winter Sun' Buzz Ignores Taxpayer Subsidies

Media reports overlooked $7.5M state taxpayers paid for TV drama to film here

In his review of the AMC TV show, Low Winter Sun, Time Magazine TV Critic James Poniewozik interjected thoughts about his own childhood growing up in Detroit, where the drama series was filmed.

"I was intrigued to see it, though, because I grew up near Detroit, which was not a popular TV location in my childhood the way Chicago or LA were," Poniewozik wrote.

The reason Poniewozik doesn't remember Detroit as a popular TV location likely is because the state didn't offer one of the biggest tax incentives in the nation back then to land such shows as Low Winter Sun.

Filmmakers can get back as much as 35 percent of their costs thanks to the Michigan Film Office's film credit.

That's higher than New Mexico, which has a film incentive that pays up to 30 percent, and was host to Breaking Bad, AMC's critically acclaimed series.

Louisiana and Alabama also have film incentives that reach as high as 35 percent. California tops out at 25 percent, and Florida goes as high as 22 percent. Colorado's incentiver program comes in at 10 percent.

Poniewozik was one of a handful of writers who spoke on the significance of the TV series being filmed in Detroit given that the city is the largest municipality to file for bankruptcy.

But Poniewozik, the Associated Press, the New York Times and the Detroit Free Press all neglected one major part of the story in their reporting: taxpayers paid $7.5 million to the production company to film the show in Michigan.

The Detroit Free Press gave the film credits six words "thanks to the state's film incentives" in its story, but made no mention the incentives amounted to millions. 

Ironically, Low Winter Sun's $7.5 million gift from Michigan taxpayers is symbolic of one of the reasons Detroit ended up in the financial decay it's in, said Leon Drolet, chairman of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance.

Subsidies and crony capitalism that favors such businesses as Hollywood filmmakers at the expense of other businesses is what played a role in bankrupting Detroit, Drolet said.

The Michigan Film Office projects the Low Winter Sun will create 148 full time jobs in a state that added about 69,000 jobs a month on average in 2012. Those job projections have not proven to last, however.

"Subsidies produce one-hit wonders," Drolet said.             

ABC's cop drama, Detroit 1-8-7, was filmed in Detroit in 2010. The producers of that show received $6 million in 2010 for filming five episodes, according to the Michigan Film Office. That show lasted one season.

News media have traditionally been very friendly in reporting when Hollywood comes to town.

For example, MLive did a story on a local bar that had a scene shot in Low Winter Sun hosting a party to celebrate. 

The New York Times headline read: " 'Low Winter Sun' Gives Detroit a Leading Role"

The article was more than just a review. It touched on Detroit's demise thanks to residents moving to the suburbs and "municipal grifters who bled the city dry."

In fact, the New York Times suggested Low Winter Sun is part of a counternarrative "of a Detroit rising and being rebuilt …"

The New York Times quoted a crew member as comparing Low Winter Sun as, "a kind of love story about the city."

However, this love story came with a $7.5 million bill Michigan taxpayers picked up.

"Whether you watch the show or not, you paid for it if you are a Michigan resident," Drolet said.

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See also:

Film Incentives: The $50 Million Sequel

Five Reasons Government Subsidies For Films Are A Bad Idea

Hollywood Transforms Itself to Milk Multiple States For Movie Money

Public Employee Pension Systems Raided To Pay Film Studio Bills

Big Hollywood Bailout: Taxpayers Spent Nearly $40 Million To Subsidize Disney's 'Oz'