Wii Game, Graphic Novel Help PixoFactor Digitize and Monetize Michigan’s Film Incentive
Michigan’s highest-in-the-nation 42 percent tax credit for filmmakers is often called the “film incentive,” but if you ask the folks at PixoFactor Entertainment in Royal Oak, MI, the bigger beneficiaries are those who work on videogame and animation productions. Plus, they argue, those jobs are longer-lasting and more local than movie production.
That’s why Sean Hurwitz, PixoFactor’s president, is in the business. “We feel like the digital side of this incentive has greater potential to create jobs and economy—or, Xconomy [Hurwitz motions over to me, and smiles]—here in Michigan.” A Hollywood film crew comes in for a short time with their own directors and actors, “underpays a lot of interns and a lot of local crews,” he says, shoots the film and then leaves. But it takes nine months to a year to produce a videogame, with local animators and programmers working the entire time.
There are currently about 20 people employed with PixoFactor. But that is about to double with the company’s latest project, one that Hurwitz is visibly excited about. They’re going to produce a new Ben Hogan golf game for the Nintendo Wii. Hurwitz says it will be the first Wii game developed in Michigan. The 42 percent tax refund is sitting on the desk of the Michigan Film Office, awaiting approval. Once that happens, Hurtitz says, PixoFactor’s office on the top floor of a Fourth Street building across the way from the Royal Oak Music Theater is going to be hopping.
The best thing about the project, says Nancy Kelley, PixoFactor’s marketing and business development principal, is that it’s local Michigan money being invested, so that the tax credit comes back to local Michigan people.
The primary local investor in PixoFactor is Envy Capital, based in Farmington Hills, MI. Hurwitz won’t say exactly how much Envy has invested, only that it’s “over a million dollars.”
Hurwitz brought Envy onboard a couple of years ago. He had partnered with the firm back when he was in the commercial real estate business between 2003 and 2007. Prior to that, Hurwitz, 41, a compact but muscular man, had spent 17 years as owner of a landscaping and construction business. PixoFactor is his first tech-oriented endeavor. He says he got out of construction because, as the old saw puts it, “You can spend your time carrying buckets or you can spend your time building a pipeline.”
Still, his almost two decades as a business owner prepared Hurwitz well for PixoFactor. “Leadership is leadership,” he says, and the core components—whether you’re in landscaping or video game development—is knowing how to manage the managers, be a liaison with clients, manage the money, and bid for a project. He cannot sit down and write a line of code, but he knows how to find the right people who do, and manage them well.
That’s what he did back in 2008, when he met Michael Bolden and Jeremiah Strackbein, two code-slingers who had founded PixoFactor the previous year. The real estate business was beginning to go south, so Hurwitz was looking for a new opportunity. Bolden and Strackbein knew the digital side, were great programmers and animators, but were looking for somone like Hurwitz—and his Envy Capital backers—to truly take advantage of the nascent industry being encouraged by the state.
“I could see the business opportunity…here in Michigan with this incentive,” Hurwitz says. “You know, if there’s a million-dollar game and you could build it for $600,000, well, if you had the right team and enough money to build your company, why wouldn’t the games come here? Why wouldn’t the animated series come here?”
So, Hurwitz and Envy came onboard, and business started coming their way. Their first big contract is coming to a head now. It’s an animated TV show based on a graphic novel from Dare Comics called “The Hunter.” Hurwitz identified the property as an “up-and-comer.” The series’ pilot is being pitched now. If it’s picked up by a network, PixoFactor will create the interactive game.
Hurwitz is excited about a new feature PixoFactor is creating that allows users to watch five minutes of the “motion comic,” then download a playable version of the scene they just watched. “So, in it, they blow up LAX and there’s terrorists and stuff,” Hurwitz says. “So once you’ve watched it, you can now download it and play in the airport, and choose who you want to be. That’s brand new.”
The Hunter contract was a good start, Hurwitz says, but the Ben Hogan Wii game is going to send the company into a whole new league. If they really haul, he says, it will take the company nine months to complete the project. They’ll need to, since the game is scheduled to be released by Father’s Day 2011. PixoFactor is in charge of the project, but they’re going to need to take on other companies as contractors for animation and programming.
After expected approval from the Michigan Film Office, PixoFactor will pull the lever and the work begins.
“With this approval, with the completion, and with the rebate coming back—those three things—for this game,” Hurwitz says, “that will open the floodgates in Michigan.”
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