It's official. After weeks of speculation, visits by Hollywood scouts and casting calls, Governor Jim Doyle officially announced a deal with Universal Pictures to bring the film Public Enemies to the Badger State this spring. The production will be shot in multiple locations around Wisconsin, spending upwards of $20 million while receiving approximately $3.9 million in tax credits under the state's new film incentives program.
Based on the book of the same name by Bryan Burrough, the movie will follow the exploits of John Dillinger, the original "Public Enemy Number One," as he and his gang are pursued by the FBI across the Upper Midwest from 1933-'34. It is being produced and directed by Academy Award nominee and Michael Mann, meanwhile, a specialist in crime sagas who got his start in film as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the early Sixties.
Public Enemies boasts an impressive cast, one that is growing in profile week by week. Leading the way as Dillinger is Johnny Depp, the massive box office draw who was recently nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for last year's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Christian Bale will be playing FBI agent Melvin Purvis, meanwhile, a starring role that will follow his high-profile Batman sequel The Dark Knight this summer. They will be joined by Marion Cotillard, the recent winner of the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose. She is playing Evelyn "Billie" Frechette, a young Wisconsin-born woman who was Dillinger's main squeeze during his final year in action.
Cotillard's attachment to the production was announced in late January along with several others, including Channing Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd, Giovanni Ribisi as Alvin Karpis, Stephen Dorff as Homer Van Meter, and Jason Clarke as John "Red" Hamilton. More recent additions include David Wenham as Pete Pierpont, John Ortiz as Frank Nitti, and Stephen Graham as Baby Face Nelson. One major cast member who has yet to be announced is the actor portraying FBI head J. Edgar Hoover.
Tuesday's announcement by Doyle comes as no surprise, though, given the flurry of activity by the production throughout Wisconsin over the last couple of months.
Scouts for Universal have scoured small towns around Wisconsin, generating more excitement with each visit. Manitowish Waters in the far north of the state has been declared as one location for the production, an appropriate selection given that the Little Bohemia Lodge in the small resort town was the site of an actual and quite significant shootout between the Dillinger gang and the FBI. Another location that has been declared is Richland Center to the west of Madison, where a bank owner has confirmed that the building has been enlisted as the setting for a robbery scene. The most recent visits are being conducted this week in Columbus, a town to the northeast of Madison where director Mann is slated inspect several potential locations this week.
Other locales that have been scouted in Wisconsin include Baraboo, Viroqua, Darlington, Oshkosh, Milwaukee, and Madison, where offices at the Capitol may fill in for FBI headquarters. Mann points to the numerous historical buildings still in use around the state as a major motivation for shooting in Wisconsin. A significant portion of the production is also slated to be shot in Chicago, meanwhile.
More signs of the impending approach of Public Enemies have also included a series of casting calls held around the state over the last month. First up was a call for vintage autos held in Madison and several other cities in late January, followed by a call for extras that was conducted at Monona Terrace on February 16. More casting calls in Wisconsin are expected as the production approaches.
Both Governor Jim Doyle and Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton applaud the deal, noting that this is the first major film production to land in Wisconsin following the enactment of a new creative industry incentives package at the beginning of the year. As detailed in the press release issued on Tuesday:
Governor Jim Doyle today announced that Universal Pictures has committed to shoot portions of its upcoming film Public Enemies, directed and produced by UW alumnus Michael Mann and starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, in Wisconsin. The company reached agreement today with the Wisconsin Department of Commerce on tax credits from the new Film Production Services Tax Credit Program.
"Welcoming the film industry to Wisconsin gives us an opportunity to showcase the rich diversity of our great state -- its landscapes, its people, and its culture," Governor Doyle said. "Movies create a sense of place that stays in the minds and hearts of moviegoers long after the credits roll. And as the proud Governor of this wonderful state, I can't wait for the rest of the world to see on the big screen what we enjoy every day -- the great state of Wisconsin."
Public Enemies, the story of America's criminal folk hero John Dillinger (Depp), whose wave of bank robberies and the subsequent FBI manhunt -- commanded by J. Edgar Hoover and run by Special Agent Melvin Purvis (Bale) -- fascinated the nation in the 1930s.
This film will be the first major production to come to Wisconsin after new tax incentives for the film industry took effect on January 1, 2008. By producing in Wisconsin, the company could earn approximately $3.9 million in tax credits. The company expects to spend nearly $20 million in the state by conducting a portion of the filming in Wisconsin. Individual community locations have not yet been determined. In choosing Wisconsin, Michael Mann cited the high quality historic building stock in many Wisconsin communities that will lend authenticity to the action-thriller.
It is estimated that about 50 percent of money spent on a film production stays in the local community where filming takes place. Other states that have enacted credits, such as New Mexico and New York, have seen revenues jump anywhere from $125 to $600 million in their first year, due to incentives.
"It is a coup to have Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Michael Mann headline the first film, but these incentives have just begun to work," Lieutenant Governor Lawton said. "They will continue to attract both blockbuster and smaller budget films to Wisconsin as more producers hear what a great place Wisconsin is to do business. Wisconsin is now a major player in attracting creative industries."
The fact that Public Enemies will be the first major production in Wisconsin since the introduction of its film incentives program is indeed a boon for the state, both in terms of business and its image. These credits, described in detail by the Wisconsin Department of Commerce and Film Wisconsin, were an integral element in bringing the production to the state. It's already delivering economic benefits, too, starting off with the money spent during the scouting visits and the hiring of assistants at the various casting call. And that's only the beginning.
The film is an auspicious debut for the state too, with its director, cast, and story. Its source book, Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave And The Birth Of The FBI, 1933-34 by Burroughs is highly acclaimed, and a pair of early script reviews (here and here) each anticipate a compelling and well-executed crime epic from Mann.
Public Enemies is currently in a flurry of pre-production, and will shoot in Chicago and around Wisconsin from March through June.