Memo to Reporters: Follow the Money!

On Hollywood subsidies

When Hollywood actors come to town local reporters often behave more like the president of a fan club rather than reporting in the style of objective observers. The media's obsession with celebrity sometimes leads to spectacles like these:

On Sept. 19, MLive.com posted on its Facebook account asking if anyone has seen Ben Affleck in a Detroit casino.

Then, in a nearly 600-word article from Gannett Michigan on a new movie the actor is shooting in Detroit, the reporter describes Affleck's affection for the city — but never mentions that the state of Michigan transferred $35 million in tax dollars from resident families and businesses to the film's producers, which many regard as corporate welfare.

Instead, the article informs readers that Affleck wore a “Detroit City” T-shirt while doing the ALS ice bucket challenge; says he loves the city; traded in his Japanese cars for Ford and GM cars; attended a children’s party and even went shopping and ate a meal in Detroit.

It also reported that Affleck, who made $35 million as of June of 2014 according to Forbes, had to get off the highway due to an accident and was shocked to see boarded up homes in the city of Detroit.

Without mentioning the $35 million taxpayer gift, the reporter explains why she thinks the movie makers chose Detroit, focusing on the "contrasting beauty and despair" as a good backdrop to the two contrasting superheroes: “Those two sides of Detroit may be one of the factors that make it an appropriate location for 'Batman v. Superman,' a cinematic collision between two very different superheros (sic), Affleck's brooding, mortal Batman and Henry Cavill's outer-space immigrant Superman.”

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This news article is not alone in ignoring the highly lucrative taxpayer-funded handout that brought the production to Michigan and instead chose to romanticize its location choice.

When the one-season bust TV show “Low Winter Sun” was about to debut in 2013, The New York Times published a 2,000-word article about Detroit as location of choice in which the reporter also failed to reveal that the state of Michigan had paid the producers $7 million to film in the city.

Instead, reporter David Carr quoted director Catherine Hardwicke on what attracted her to the city: “She saw a kind of terrible beauty everywhere she looked.”

He also quoted the director: “How could I not make something remarkable here? When we drive or walk around, you see location after location that is amazing and heartbreaking at the same time.”

"Low Winter Sun" was not just a TV show, but a show that was trying “to find meaning amid the rubble.”

“You can find that counternarrative — of a Detroit rising and being rebuilt — right on the set of 'Low Winter Sun,'" Carr wrote.

"Low Winter Sun" lasted 10 episodes.

Detroit has had heartbreaking scenes for decades, many of them also amazing. But the question to ask these actors and directors is, would they still have come if not for millions in taxpayer handouts?

The real answer is suggested by this statistic: There were 140 movies made in Michigan in the 60-plus years from 1946 to 2007, according to the Michigan Film Office.

After then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed the law making the tax subsidy the most lucrative in the country, there were 165 movies made from 2008 to 2011.

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