11 May 2010

Film Commissioner Bringing Hollywood's Movie Magic to Michigan

The Detroit Free Press

She has been described as the hardest-working woman in show business. For Janet Lockwood, being Michigan's film commissioner means 12-hour days scrutinizing dozens of tax-credit applications from production companies, dealing with difficult producers and answering a constant deluge of e-mails from everyone from Hollywood studio executives to mothers hoping to turn their children into movie stars.

The veteran director of Michigan's Film Office usually doesn't leave her Lansing office until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. each day and is so busy that she rarely has time to go to lunch. To get some exercise, she forces herself to walk around her office.

"I have no life," says the former stage actor. "I haven't had a life since April 8, 2008."

That's the date when Michigan passed the most-generous film tax incentives in the country, instantly catapulting the state from an extra in the movie production business into a starring role. For Lockwood, the transformation was like going from 20 m.p.h. to 200.

But this Michigander says she wouldn't have it any other way. The state's 42% movie tax credits have created more than 3,000 temporary jobs, helping people save their homes and cars. "It's really meant a lot," Lockwood says. "The movie industry for the most part makes people smile and Lord knows Michigan could use more smiles."

Lockwood's seven-person office works closely with Michigan's Treasury Department to ensure that tax credits only go to legitimate production companies. Last year, scandals in Iowa led to the suspension of that state's film incentives, a warning to other states new to the incentive game. "We don't want to approve crap," Lockwood says.

When Lockwood took over the Michigan Film Office in 1992, states competed for Hollywood production dollars based solely on their locations and services. Nowadays, it's all about money. "As long as everyone else has incentives, Michigan has to have incentives," says Lockwood, the state's fourth film commissioner.

Under former Gov. William Milliken, Michigan established a film office in 1979, the year "Somewhere in Time" filmed at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. The first movie Lockwood worked on was 1992's "Hoffa," starring Jack Nicholson.

With her deep voice, wry sense of humor and theater experience, Lockwood enjoys public speaking. That's something she regularly gets to do, whether it be running meetings of the Michigan Film Office Advisory Council or talking to a room full of independent filmmakers at an industry trade show in California.

Her job does have some perks. She got to spend two days in a van with Billy Crystal, scouting for locations. She counts Jeff Daniels as a friend. George Clooney once brought her a cappuccino. And the producers of the 1998 movie "Out of Sight," which was partly shot in Detroit, even thanked her by name in the film's credits.

"I'm still enamored by the business of Hollywood," Lockwood admits. "I love the movies. It's just magic."

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