Lights, Camera, Michigan!

Roll out the red carpet, folks. It’s premiere time. And while star-studded movie events are usually found in Cannes or Hollywood, the Mitten State (or, as we call it, the “Midwest Movie Mecca”) will show off our  film industry with a new weekend of cinematic celebration: the Uptown Film Festival presented by Oakland County Film and Digital Media. It’s all taking place March 11 and 12 at the Uptown Palladium 12 and Birmingham 8 theatres in downtown Birmingham.

“We are extremely excited to bring the Uptown Film Festival to life this year,” said UFF Co-Executive Director Jeffrey Spilman, who also owns FIT (Film Industry Training), which help locals get work in the industry.  “The films and talent highlighted during this event have played key roles in the substantial growth and success of the Michigan film industry during the past several years.  This festival recognizes the hard work and dedication of the state’s film industry professionals, and the productions they’ve created in Michigan.”

Mitten State Movie Premieres

The two-night film festival kicks off with a VIP-only red carpet premiere of Kill The Irishman, starring Val Kilmer, Christopher Walken and Ray Stevenson, Friday, March 11 at 7:30 p.m. The crime caper, which was shot in Detroit, tells the tale of Danny Green, the “man the Mob couldn’t kill,” and is set in 1970’s Cleveland. The VIP gala event, which begins at 9 p.m. and will benefit Gleaners Food Bank, The Arthritis Foundation and the Detroit Institute of Arts, is only available to guests who purchase a festival pass.

Saturday, at 5 p.m., the festival will also premiere a new comedy called Demoted, starring Sean Astin and David Cross. And on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., filmgoers will be treated to another major premiere: rapper-turned-actor 50 Cent’s star turn with Ray Liotta in Things Fall Apart, a drama that examines the life of a college football star (shot in Grand Rapids).

The Uptown Film Festival is also committed to sharing the best of Michigan’s homemade cinema with moviegoers. Among the hometown reels that will be brought to Birmingham’s silver screens: Lucky, a dramatic look at relationships, which is the product of our own Rebel Pictures and filmmaker Michael McCallum.

Credit Jeffrey Spilman for creating a powerhouse lineup of premieres to draw crowds: after reaching out to Anchor Bay Entertainment, the distributors for Kill The Irishman, he was able to use his network of contacts to bring all three major studio releases on board.

“Once we told them what our mission was, to really celebrate Michigan as a filming destination, to celebrate the people here and put a face to the film industry, they thought it was a really good cause,” he remembers. “The relationships with these people, and the fact that we could have first class venues, helped us bring these films into the film festival.”

Also joining the celebration is another heavy hitter on the local film scene: the second-annual Michigan Film Awards, which will host their gala at 9 p.m. March 12 following the premiere of “Things Fall Apart.” Along with the Detroit Independent Film Festival, they’ll screen some of the state’s best independent features from 2010 all weekend.

“Michigan filmmaking takes all different shapes and forms,” says Kirk Miller, the president of Kinetic Post and Co-Executive Director of the festival. “Part of the impetus to create this is to recognize filmmakers of every level. The creative aspect, and having it be in the state of Michigan, where it really hasn’t been before.” He adds, “The incentive, I think, is encouraging some of these younger filmmakers to stay here and make their films, because there’s the possibility that they can make a career doing it here, in the state of Michigan.”

Building An Industry

Kirk Miller is the president and senior editor of Kinetic Post, which does post-production work for movies, commercials, corporate communications and episodic TV series. Though his business has been around for a decade, branching into the film industry was only a recent development.

“We recognized in 2008, when the incentives passed, that there were opportunities to supplement what we were doing with the advertising agencies,” he remembers, adding that the agencies in town were hit just as hard as the automotive companies over the past few years. “It offered us the opportunity, not only for job creation, but for job retention.”

Miller says Kinetic Post spent $750,000 revamping their digital technology facility to accommodate workflow from Hollywood. “We’re building on our involvement in the film industry, one after the other,” he explains. “We get one in, we do a good job, and our reputation builds.”

Showcasing local film industry talents is one of the key goals of the Uptown Film Festival. “A lot of people don’t realize that Michigan’s film industry and the incentives is really a subsidy to do business in Michigan, to hire Michigan people and to utilize Michigan companies,” Spilman says. “Based on that, we want to put a face on it. We want these folks to come to the festival and meet the filmmakers, to see how films are made, to understand how production works.” He adds, “You don’t normally get that in Birmingham, Michigan, or in Detroit. You usually have to go to LA for that. But we brought it home for Birmingham, for this weekend. And we think it’s really exciting.”

What’s The Future?

If the Michigan film incentives stay in place with full funding, Miller sees the Uptown Film Festival as an annual celebration of a new industry in Michigan — and according to his eye, the future is brighter than ever if the state commits to building the industry over the next few years.

“The core of success, from Michigan being an end-to-end producer of motion pictures, really relies on a sustainable incentive,” he says. But he says there are plenty of industry folk and production companies who would take advantage of the opportunity to return to Michigan. “There’s a lot of people from Michigan and the Midwest who are actively engaged in making films on the West Coast,” he says. “They would love to be here. But we have to provide an environment that’s consistent, right? So they can move back, move their families here, and buy houses.” He believes the infrastructure will only continue to grow if top-level producers and film industry types can commit to living in Michigan.

Miller is excited to celebrate the seeds of that industry at this year’s festival. “I’m looking forward to seeing some of these movies,” he says. “Not just the premieres, but some of the smaller fllms, as well.” He even has a hand in one: “We did all of the post-production work on “Annabelle and Bear” here at the studio … it’s a very fine film.”

“We met early on with the guys from DIFF, and there was some synergy between what we were going to do,” he remembers. “We could bring a lot more attention to their independent film festival, and they could help round out what we wanted to show, as far as Michigan filmmaking goes.”

Miller also highlights the first-rate amenities for the festival, including the location amidst the shops and restaurants of downtown Birmingham, as one reason the Uptown Film Festival has the potential to become one of the Mitten State’s landmark events.

“It really has the potential to be a destination, not only for people from Michigan, but people from other states and around the world,” Miller says. “Through our website, we’re tracking where people are coming from. We’ve got people who have visited from every continent, 30 countries total, 40 states, have all found their way to our website. We’re hopeful that we still have an incentive in place next year, because this can really become an event and a destination for the state of Michigan.”

Spilman, who credits the film incentives from allowing him to transition from a service provider of films in 2008 to the state’s largest homegrown executive producer, says he’s  hopeful that the film incentives will stay, and that the Uptown Film Festival will become an annual affair.

“For every dollar spent, six dollars comes back in economic impact, and thousands of jobs are being created,” he says. “So when we look at those numbers, and we look at the faces of people around the state who have become employed, we think there’s a groundswell of support that’s being generated to keep the incentives pretty much as they are, with some minor tweaks.”
“Next year, there should be an even larger Uptown Film Festival, and well have even larger premieres, and we’ll be even more organized when it comes to our grassroots and indie products.”

Get your tickets, check out the schedule and learn more about the Uptown Film Festival here.

The Uptown Film Festival is made possible through generous support from the following:

Oakland County Film & Digital Media
Detroit Medical Center and Film Industry Training

Michigan Film Office, Film Detroit, Huntington Bank, and The Detroit News

S3 Entertainment Group, Kinetic Post, Uptown Entertainment, Michigan Movie Magazine, Seyburn Knox Law Group, HOUR Magazine, Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau

Delta Air Lines and MotorCity Casino Hotel

Photo #1: The Birmingham 8 Marquee, courtesy of Metromode.

Photo #2: “Kill The Irishman” movie poster.

Photo #3: A scene from “Kill The Irishman”, which was filmed in Detroit.

Photo #4: “Things Fall Apart” movie poster.