Why the lights have dimmed on LA's film industry

The Hollywood Sign is seen in Los Angeles, Calif.

Hollywood is no longer the go-to place for shooting feature films and TV shows.

Just eight percent of big budget Hollywood films were made in LA in 2013, down from 65 percent in 1997. And from 2005 to 2013, California's share of one-hour TV series dropped from 64 percent to 28 percent. 

Why the big exodus? States like Georgia, New York and Louisiana -- and countries like the UK and Canada -- are offering attractive tax subsidies to lure filmmakers.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has declared a "state of emergency" in the local film and TV production industry.

The Association of Film Commissioners International held their convention in March at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Century City. It’s been called “The Poacher’s Convention.” Dozens of booths lined a big hotel banquet hall. Each one promoted the natural beauty of their state or country -- and their generous tax incentives.

A sign atThe Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI) Tradeshow in West Hollywood, California. 

“The show is called ‘Locations Trade Show’ but it’s really not about locations anymore, it’s about incentives, and North Carolina is a 25 percent fully-funded rebate,” said Aaron Syrett, the North Carolina Film Commissioner.

The movies “Iron Man 3” and “The Hunger Games” and the TV shows “Homeland” and “Sleepy Hollow” were all shot in North Carolina. The state spends $80 million a year on those rebates.

But, Syrett said, his state isn’t really competing with California. “We’re competing with Georgia and Louisiana,” he said.

States like Utah also offers filmmakers a 25 percent discount. To drive the point home, the wallpaper in Utah’s booth was just the number “25%” repeated in a huge font.

“The business is here in Hollywood. We want to keep it here. Everyone here wants to take it away,” said Art Yoon with Film LA, the group that issues permits to shoot in Los Angeles. “I mean, we have a $100 million tax credit, that’s not nearly enough. We’re going to have to up that if we want to be serious about keeping the industry here.”

California, by all accounts, hasn’t kept up. The state has a lot else going for it: local talent, sunny weather, and a support system, like caterers and electricians.

But documentary filmmaker Deborah Rankin said it ultimately comes down to dollars and cents: “Especially as an independent filmmaker, it’s really, it’s hard. It’s hard raising the money, and you’ve gotta make it go as far as it can,” Rankin said.

Filmmaker Dan Gagliasso is working on a Bosnia-Kosovo war film, and plans to shoot it in Minnesota, largely because of generous tax credits – especially if you shoot in the northern part of the state. And, he said, the red tape in Los Angeles makes shooting there more difficult.

“You know, if you say the wrong word, suddenly you have to have a study because you’re crossing a stream with a horse. It’s like, ‘Well gee, it’s a private horse ranch, that horse crosses that stream every day!’ They don’t care. It’s bureaucracy,” Gagliasso said.

Hollywood filmmakers are hoping California lawmakers will pass a bill that would extend the state's current $100 million a year film production tax credit. The bill would also expand the range of films eligible to apply for tax credits, and would open the credits to television pilot production. Its main opponents are education groups who are lobbying for more school funding rather than increasing production incentives.

About the author

Avishay Artsy is the afternoon news producer for KCRW in Santa Monica.

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