Back to 25 to Survive

Winston-Salem was the intended site, but incentives drew filming to Michigan

Top actors film MacLachlan screenplay

Winston-Salem was the intended site, but incentives drew filming to Michigan

Joe Rodriguez Photo Courtesy of Angus MacLachlan

Playwright Angus MacLachlan has been working recently on Stone, a new feature film.

By Tim Clodfelter | Journal Reporter

Published: June 29, 2009

Angus MacLachlan has spent several weeks this month watching Robert DeNiro and Edward Norton recite words he wrote.

"It's fantastic," MacLachlan said. "It's amazing to sit there and watch them work…. When you meet celebrities, you have to act like you're really cool with it, but then every once in a while he'll say a line and you'll say, ‘Oh, my God, that's Robert DeNiro!'"

DeNiro and Norton are two of the stars of Stone, a feature film written by MacLachlan that's now being shot in Michigan. The cast also includes Milla Jovovich and Frances Conroy. John Curran (The Painted Veil) is the director.

MacLachlan, a Winston-Salem screenwriter and playwright, is best known for the 2005 film Junebug and the short film Tater Tomater. He originally wrote Stone as a play in 2000. The film's release date has not yet been set, but it will likely be in 2010.

"The basic story of the film, when you get down to the heart of it, is this man in prison (Norton) trying to get his case manager Jack (DeNiro) to recommend him for parole," MacLachlan said. "He tells his wife (Jovovich), who's on the outside, to seduce Jack and compromise him.

"It's reflective of what's happening in the entire world, that when you build your life on leverages and false structures, when those start to collapse, how do you then justify your actions, morally or otherwise?"

The play version of Stone has been performed only once, as a staged reading in 2003 at a forum in Los Angeles. Stacy Keach and Zachary Quinto (Heroes, Star Trek) played the leading roles. MacLachlan turned the play into a screenplay in 2005, originally setting the film in Winston-Salem, where part of the action would take place at Forsyth Correctional Center.

But because tax incentives were higher in Michigan -- which offers a 40 percent tax rebate to filmmakers, compared with North Carolina's current 15 percent -- the producers chose to shoot the film in Michigan instead.

Last week, the state Senate voted to raise North Carolina's film incentive to a more competitive 25 percent, and the bill will now move on to the House. MacLachlan said he hopes that it passes.

"I hear over and over about film projects wanting to shoot here (in North Carolina)," MacLachlan said. "Michigan is having this huge insurgence of filmmaking. We're there because of the tax incentives."

"On the crew, a number of people were from North Carolina, including the line producer, and they all said, ‘You've got to help push the tax incentive,'" MacLachlan said.

"I have no influence or pull, but it really is costing North Carolina a lot…. Talking to friends in the North Carolina film industry, they tell me how many films are flirting with North Carolina and then go somewhere else."

Sen. Linda Garrou, D-Forsyth, is the bill's chief sponsor. She said that the additional incentives would bring in $700 million and create 4,000 jobs in North Carolina.

Opponents dispute those numbers and have argued that the state can't afford to be wooing film companies while it's facing a budget crisis. And they say that incentives rarely amount to a break-even deal for states, in part because the jobs they create are short-lived.

In the case of Stone, rewriting the script to be set elsewhere wasn't a problem in terms of the story.

"It's not about a city, it's more about the people in it," he said. "Plus, we needed a big prison and there's a huge prison in Jackson, Mich. We stayed in Ann Arbor and filmed in Ypsilanti, Jackson and Dexter."

He has gone back and forth to Michigan a few times now to watch production, which has another week to go.

"Mostly I've been observing and being supportive of everyone," he said. "I'm actually learning a lot about films. This is only...

to comment