I am writing this blog post from the set of the Freaky Deaky movie in downtown Detroit. The Freaky Deaky production team prepares to shoot a scene at a restaurant located where Lake St Clair flows into the Detroit River. I sit on a wooden deck chair, communicating by email with Think IP Strategy clients. All around me, I see all the activity taking place to create a new movie that, at its core, will be IP content to sell. About 20 meters in front of me, Christian Slater rehearses his role in the scene with a stand-in actress named Sabrina Dungan. Sabrina is still looking for her big break on screen. About 10 meters closer to me, film crewmembers have just laid tracks for the dolly that a RED camera and cinematographers will glide along when they shoot the scene. Charlie Matthau, director, reviews the script with Lesley King, his script supervisor, about 10 meters to my right. Two video screens in front of them show what the cameras see.
I am in a city that was a centerpiece of American industrial strength and an originator of much industrial IP. This city has been hit hard economically because its wealth centered on manufacturing, and much of that has moved overseas. To get to the set, we drove through neighborhoods that Michael Moore filmed in his documentaries railing against business practices that separated the needs of the business from the needs of the community with which it resides, an urban landscape blighted by the loss of manufacturing. The images are quite real. About every third house on the way to the set was boarded up, as are much of the industrial facilities. The rest looked in terrible shape, empty, broken windows, all except for a few gated communities that had green grass, nice homes, seemed completely out of place in this part of town. Some of these downtrodden neighborhoods have been less than nice places for a long time – and I got a taste of this first hand in a 1981 robbery inside my grandfather’s transmission shop.
In front of me, though, I am watching one of the green shoots that can sprout from change. Almost all of the film crewmembers working here are from Detroit or the greater Michigan area anyway. Talking to folks, more than one has a background in automobiles. They are making a new product of a different kind, the value of which will depend upon IP. The driver of their work is similar in principle to the driver that sent automobile manufacturing away. It costs less to make movies in Michigan than in California, and the IP to do so is portable. Granted, Freaky Deaky is a story set in Detroit, but with the green screen technology available now, you could film, in a good studio anywhere, actors and actresses walking even in Red Square in the 1960s and make it appear more authentically the past than if you shot on location today.
Movie making seems to be organized creativity at its best – one bold vision for a film – hundreds of creative minds putting their own spin on their own part to bring that vision together. The production is highly mobile. Parked outside the set are multiple 18 wheeled trucks and smaller vans and other vehicles that move from place to place, set to set; and my office for Think IP Strategy has today been an airplane, a car, a warehouse, a lunch bar, and now a deck chair on the set of an outdoor, city, lunch scene where I can give my attention to that which is physically in front of me and then to a client halfway around the world.
Things are certainly different here in Detroit today, though it all still centers on creating and using IP. Now another star shows up. Breanna Racano just walked onto the set. A wardrobe staff member is combing her hair…she just looked over…really. IP is not boring. She is from Akron, Ohio, and this movie is her big break, a leading role she just landed on July 4th. She said she is still pinching herself to prove it’s real. When she finishes this movie, the world could open up for her, free from ties to any one location, a more extreme example of the portability of people as well as ideas – and tools for that matter. Detroit will have to keep the portability of all aspects of IP – people, ideas, and tools – in mind if it wants to find reason to get the people who can rebuild her to come and stay. If it has one thing to learn above all others is that there is almost always a cheaper place to turn IP into products people want to buy. Windsor, just across the river, almost took this movie about Detroit away.
Image credit: Andrew Jameson