Fast Company: Robert Phelps, director of ‘Stick it in Detroit’

Robert Phelps doesn’t bleed Detroit’s colors, but his new film, Stick It In Detroit, is dripping with the Motor City.

The Clerks-like comedy about a gas station clerk in Detroit premiered to a few hundred people in downtown Royal Oak’s Main Art Theatre late last month. It’s set for a general release on Friday at the MJR theaters in Waterford, Sterling Heights, and Southgate. Phelps, the film’s writer, director, and actor, agreed to email a few answers to some questions about making a movie in Metro Detroit.

How have the film incentives helped other local filmmakers?
The film incentives don’t help the true indie filmmaker at all. They are only for the big boys with more than $2 million to spend. It will be a very rare thing when local filmmakers can raise more than $2 million to spend on their indie projects. The films that are rolling though town now are those backed by the studios or backed by a production company that already has studio distribution locked up.

How do you see the local film landscape changing if the film incentives stay in place long-term?
We are already starting to see the ripple effect of the incentives. Outside investors are spending hundreds of millions on studios and technical training facilities, most notably Unity Studios in Allen Park. If the tax incentives remain we will begin to see the entire infrastructure for a self sustaining film community that will offer high paying jobs to thousands of Detroiters. We will begin to see large investments on behalf of our local universities to train new film workers. Most exciting, though, will be the development of new talented filmmakers, writers, directors, and actors from our own backyards. This is not the answer to all of Detroit’s unemployment problems but it could be a very large Band Aid on this gaping bullet hole.

Was making your movie here possible without the incentives? Could you have done this five years ago in a different climate?
We did make it without the incentives but no, we could not have made Stick It In Detroit anywhere else. The support of our families and friends was the only reason we were able to make the film. Like I mentioned before, the incentives are only for those at $2 million and over. We put ours in the can for $115K. But this will still trickle down to us little guys who get to work with the new technologies and quite simply learn how to make better movies.

What is one thing you would like to change about the local film scene in Metro Detroit?
The apathetic nature of Detroit has to change. We have this inferiority complex that holds most people back from really reaching their full potential and settling for whatever the outside world tells us we are suppose to be or do. We need to find the passion and the pride to support one another and be the innovative squeaky wheel. I would love to see Detroit be the place the rest of the country looks at as to what is truly on the horizon of film.

Source: Robert Phelps, writer, director, and actor of “Stick It In Detroit”
Writer: Jon Zemke