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Key Calif. Industry Lacks Unified Voice

Posted: August 27, 2013 2:00 p.m.
Updated: August 27, 2013 2:00 p.m.
Hero/courtesy photo from the city of Santa Clarita Hero/courtesy photo from the city of Santa Clarita
Hero/courtesy photo from the city of Santa Clarita

Scores of trade associations operate in California to support industries, except in one area – filming.

Despite being a key economic industry, no single group exists to advocate on behalf of the entire film industry and the billions of dollars it delivers to the state and jobs it supports.

As a result, a very loosely formed coalition of guilds, unions, vendors and studios joined together to successfully lobby the legislature and governor in 2009, helping to create the $100 million California Film & Television Tax Credit Program – though even supporters of the program say it is still too weak to compete with other states, and other countries.

“We’re all focused on trying to expand the incentives in order to bring more work back here,” said Ed Duffy, business agent for Teamsters Local 399. “It affects the entire state when a production goes.”

For every film production job that is lost, $122,000 is lost to the community, according to the San Francisco Film Commission.

“A lot of production that should be shot in San Francisco moved,” Duffy said. “The TV series “Alcatraz” didn’t even shoot in San Francisco.”

Losing production on a rapid basis hurts jobs; it’s all about jobs and all about the economy in the state, he said.

If the industry doesn’t have those jobs in California, the state loses because companies and people are taking (and spending) their money elsewhere. And, because earnings tend to run above average in the industry, it’s economically advantageous for the state to keep people working where they live and spend their money.

As production companies take their filming to out-of-state locations, people in other states end up learning the skills, vendors start opening satellite companies, studios open and start building stages. And other industries, like hotel and tourism, suffer as well, he said.

“And then our members, who have taught others how to do their job, don’t get work,” Duffy said.

Feature film production in Los Angeles has dropped nearly 60 percent in the past 15 years, the coalition says. And of the primetime, scripted, one-hour TV programs, California now hosts less than 40 percent of the productions.

Jobs in the industry average above normal salaries, representing more of an economic loss to a region.

“All of the below-the-line unions changed their rates to keep production in California,” said Michael DeLorenzo, president of Santa Clarita Studios. “They now have tiers for lower productions in California, while 15 years ago there was one rate.”

And, local Santa Clarita studios have been charging rates that are some 20 years old to keep film production in the state, owners said. Industry experts at the SCV Business Journal Roundtable agreed that the industry has essentially been subsidizing itself to keep the home-grown industry alive.

“We have to remain competitive; if we don’t, those jobs are going somewhere else,” he said.



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