The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce held its second State of the Entertainment Industry Conference Tuesday. The main focus was on keeping film and television production in California.
The conference was a gathering of business people, elected officials, trade union representatives and studio executives, like Eileen Ige-Wong. The senior vice president of production finance at 20th Century Television said when her shop draws up a budget for a show, they run the numbers on different locations. Because of generous tax incentives offered by other states, California often loses out.
Related: Is SoCal's film and television industry really losing ground?
"A $3 million drama here would be $2.5 million in North Carolina and $2.4 million in Louisiana, so it’s a big difference," Ige-Wong said during the conference's first panel discussion on "Keeping Jobs in California."
The result: Of the 23 new television dramas ordered last year, only two of them stuck around to shoot in California. The state has offered tax credits of its own since 2009. $100 million a year — barely enough to cover 10 percent of the productions that apply for it.
"We just need a bigger pot of funds," said Amy Lemisch, who heads the California Film Commission.
Three Los Angeles-area state legislators told the conference they’re working on enlarging that pot, but that can be a tough sell in Sacramento. Sen. Kevin De Leon said the importance of the tax credit program is one story Hollywood isn’t telling very well. He said it's often derided as a plan to help movie stars and entertainment moguls do business more cheaply.
De Leon disagrees. "It’s about the men and women behind the camera, below the line. It’s about the caterers, it’s about the vendors, it’s about good solid middle class jobs," De Leon said.
Distracting plot twist
Right now the effort to promote that story about the film tax credit is facing a distracting plot twist. A recent FBI sting against State Sen. Ron Calderon has focused attention on accusations that he accepted bribes for agreeing to expand the film and TV tax credit program. An FBI agent reportedly posed as a film studio executive to pull off the sting.
In opening remarks at the entertainment industry conference, Assembly member Raul Bocanegra called the investigation the "elephant in the room."
"The FBI could have picked any topic from any industry to mount a sting," Bocanegra said. "The integrity of the program itself was never questioned. This is the most transparent tax incentive program that the state has, and this will not deter us. "
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce used the conference to release some initial findings of a study from the Milken Institute. It looks at the rise of film and television production in other states and countries. Between 2005 and 2012, the study says, New York - which has a tax incentive program four times greater than that of California - added more than 13,000 production-related jobs. During the same period, the study says, California shed 4,500 permanent jobs.
Data from the California Employment Development Department suggest that employment in the motion picture and sound recording industry has remained flat over the past 10 years. In 2003, the sector employed 120,000 people in Los Angeles. That number has risen as high as 137,000 (in 2004) and fallen as low as 117,000 (in 2009). Last year, the sector employed an average of 119,000 people.