California has long been regarded as the film capital of the world, but this is no longer the case. Of 55 big-budget films in 2012-13, only one was filmed entirely in California. Why? Other states are increasing tax incentives to attract productions. It's called runaway production.
With up to 30 percent, uncapped refundable tax credits for in-state production spending, Georgia and Louisiana are luring major motion pictures. New York, which can also return upwards of 30 percent to productions, has a $420 million annual cap on tax credits. Since 2009, California has offered a tax credit of 20 percent, or 25 percent for independent films and relocating TV series, capped at $100 million a year.
The California Film and Television Job Retention and Promotion Act of 2014 (AB 1839) would allow movies with budgets greater than $100 million to qualify for the 20 percent tax credits and provide an additional 5 percent in tax credits to films shot outside of Los Angeles. That 5 percent bump will help bring more productions to Northern California and the Bay Area.
AB 1839 is co-authored by more than 65 legislators and has passed the Assembly and the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. Now it is headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee for a hearing Aug. 4.
If you ever watch film credits, you know how long that list can be. Many of those credits represent local jobs in the state of the production. Statistics bear that out: Figures from the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics show that from 2004-12, California lost more than 16,000 film- and television-industry jobs, resulting in more than $1.5 billion in lost wages and economic activity. The state's share of industry employment declined to 52 percent, down from 65 percent in 2004.
Many films and TV programs set in California are being shot in other states, using computer-generated imagery to insert California locations later. This means many production workers based in California have to work in other states and pay taxes there, even though their families are here.
They'd much rather work and pay taxes where their children are being raised.
We need good-paying jobs throughout the state. Not only are local jobs created with this bill, many are union jobs with middle-class wages. It doesn't stop there. These jobs create a ripple effect throughout the local economy. Small lighting and grip companies use local truck repair businesses to service their trucks. Wardrobe stylists purchase clothes from local retailers. Food caterers purchase groceries and meals from neighborhood shops and restaurants. Production workers from out of town stay in local hotels. On it goes.
San Francisco currently offers rebates to filmmakers for fees paid to city agencies for permits and other costs, which has attracted 16 productions, but most have come for days at a time, shooting only film exteriors and then heading to other states for the bulk of production. This means a few days in California with a limited crew and then over a month with a full crew and a constructed film set somewhere else.
Losing the film industry is detrimental. We need to take back what we've lost. Let's make the Golden State the film capital of the world again and bring middle-class jobs and revenue to the Bay Area.
Johanna McCloy is a SAG-AFTRA actor, writer/editor and advocate residing in Berkeley.