Friday, October 2, 2009

Movie Making Won't Be Magic for Lakeshore

From the October 8, 2009 Grand Haven Tribune.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great that the film “What’s Wrong With Virginia” is currently being shot in Grand Haven and 30 other locations on the Lake Michigan shoreline. It will be exciting to witness some of the filming, meet actors, and eventually see the film and try to see what settings are recognizable.

But beyond that temporary curiosity, there’s not much to get too excited about.

There have been other movies shot in the area and the region was not made famous. Recall “Road to Perdition” several years ago, starring Tom Hanks and including a scene at a beach house on Lake Michigan near Port Sheldon. Other than some local excitement, few people who saw that movie would know where the scene was shot.

But that’s fine. Do we really want to be recognized in a Hollywood production? I think not. Usually people from Los Angeles and New York make fun of the Midwest in their movies. I doubt the people in North Dakota think they were fairly or positively portrayed in “Fargo.” In fact, that movie is often cited by people who mock the Midwest, adopting the accent used by lead characters and suggesting that all Midwesterners talk funny. I’d hate for the film currently being produced in our area to include dialogue or images that become fodder for amateur comedians across the country to associate some unkind attribute with Grand Haven.

I don’t know the storyline of the movie, but if it evokes positive characteristics then it would be nice if the movie would boldly make obvious that the film is being shot in Western Michigan. It would be great if the film exposes the rest of the country to the beauty of our environment. What a refreshing surprise it would be if the industry and integrity of our people were cast as positive values and not bizarre anomalies to be scoffed at by goateed and turtle-necked moral relativists with drug problems and an abundance of ex-wives, if they ever got married. But such enlightened respect is as rare as natural physical features among Hollywood elite.

Maybe I’ll be surprised. But I suspect that either West Michigan will be only used as a backdrop for this movie and will be anonymous, with the houses and shops and other props being in “Anytown USA.” Or, we will be regarded as quaint folk who are nice but in an unsophisticated way. We will be ridiculed with faint praise.

Not only will positive fame be illusive, so will riches. A big deal has been made of the state offering tax incentives for filmmakers to create movies in Michigan. But it is questionable how much income is brought to the region. Actors and film crews come from elsewhere, so there’s not much of a local employment boost. Maybe lodging and dining establishments will get some business during filming, and that’s good. But it’s not phenomenal.

But, not to despair. Would we really want to be “discovered” by Hollywood? That could have negative consequences. Soon beachfront property would be bought up faster than you can say “Malibu,” and the real estate market would skyrocket. That would be good for local realtors, but the rest of us could say goodbye to ever owning a home on the beach. We’d have to fight to keep our parks from becoming gated communities. We’d have to deal with the likes of Nick Nolte and other washed up Hollywood “leading men” stumbling drunk out of area bars causing a ruckus. Prima donna actresses would parade down Washington Street, eventually turning local merchants into overpriced boutiques similar to Rodeo Drive. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie might move here—with two dozen kids. Yikes! Roads would be closed frequently by film crews. It would get old quickly if you just want a cup of coffee at Jumpin’ Java but are held back by a dolly camera shooting yet another movie scene.

OK. Maybe none of that will happen either. And that’s good. There’s nothing wrong with filming “What’s Wrong With Virginia?” in our neck of the woods. There’s nothing wrong with Grand Haven either. We’re just a typical community. I hope the film doesn’t insinuate otherwise. But I won’t get too excited either way.

It’s just a movie.