Two days after this year's Oscars, Hollywood's councilman Eric Garcetti, then running for mayor of Los Angeles, staged a media event at Sunset Gower Studios.
runaway production," a buzzword that means little for those outside the industry and, for insiders, is a timeworn term for a chronic, unresolved problem alongside piracy and studio accounting.
But Garcetti, a series of location managers and other crew workers who spoke in late February tried convey a message of urgency: Hollywood's homegrown industry is being ceded to other states and countries whose favorable tax credits are increasingly luring away movie and television production at an alarming rate. As competition both in the U.S. and abroad continues to grow, the state's market share and longtime stronghold on production jobs and spending are fast evaporating.
"I am starting to see people who have never made a feature film in Los Angeles," Chris Baugh, location manager for Oscar winner "Argo," which actually shot in L.A., told the small group outside a soundstage. "In fact, they are afraid to. They are concerned that it is too expensive and too difficult."
These days studio chiefs insist that filmmakers they work with take advantage of out-of-state incentives to lower production costs, which on a single major motion picture can amount to savings of tens of millions. Those savings are crucial in a franchise-obsessed era when big-budget movies commonly cost north of $200 million to produce, while on the revenue side the DVD market has largely collapsed and cinema attendance has been generally flat over the past decade. In the current climate, most independent projects would not even be produced without incentives.
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With the rise in the past decade of state tax breaks for movie and TV filmmaking, California, with its own modest incentive program, can't compete when the bottom line is the sole factor in deciding whether to shoot in the Golden State.
It is no longer a given that Hollywood is the place where movies and TV shows are produced.
The California Film Commission recently released a sobering report concluding that the state "continues to experience a pronounced erosion of this signature industry." Although the state's incentive program has recaptured lower-budgeted features, TV movies and basic cable dramas, California is losing out big on network TV dramas and feature films. Many local businesses that support production have closed or been forced to lay off workers, and the trade unions report high levels of unemployment among their California members, according to the study.
After decisively winning L.A.'s top elective office, Garcetti put the flight of production atop his agenda. But the challenge is not only to convince those outside the biz that the city and region, to use his word, has an "emergency" on its hands, but that the state must do more about tax breaks that are still perceived by many as a giveaway to the glitterati.
Other mayors have talked about the issue; none have cited it as a priority in their inaugural address, as Garcetti did on June 30. Suggesting that it was important to act when "my political capital is strongest," he vowed that he would create the position of film czar, who would be responsible for making the production process as smooth as possible through the thicket of City Hall red tape, and perhaps more importantly, would be the face for an industry that has historically kept a distance from downtown. Garcetti hopes to have the czar in place by the fall.
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The two would presumably work closely together, much like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and film chief Katherine Oliver have successfully done, to help boost L.A.'s production activity and rebrand the City of Angels as the entertainment capital of the world once again.
Earlier this year the City Council passed a set of initiatives to waive fees for TV drama pilots, which next to feature filmmaking may be the most important production category to flee the area.
Yet even if the city is ready to smooth over the bureaucratic bumps for any kind of production, it won't change the fact that the determining factor in whether a project shoots here or in Louisiana lies in the hands of lawmakers in Sacramento, where the sense of urgency over this issues competes with many other voices and industries with differing agendas, all calling for something to be done. Now.
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