We often use the term “Hollywood” to refer to the entertainment business. In truth, over the past several decades, many TV shows and films have been shot far from Hollywood — in fact, far from California — in places like England, Canada, New Orleans and Boston.
With so many states and countries luring productions with generous tax incentives and rebates, many California crews have had to leave home in order to stay in the business, and a vital piece of the state’s cultural and creative economy has been hurt.
Now, things are starting to change. California is preparing to launch its newly-expanded tax credits program. The available funding has more than tripled — from $100 million to $330 million annually — making it more competitive with states like Louisiana and New York. Eligible productions have expanded to include independent films and TV shows.
At the California Film Commission's annual breakfast in Beverly Hills, film commissioners from across the state gathered to gear up for what they hope is a new era for production in California.
When Film Commission executive director Amy Lemisch took the podium at the Sofitel Hotel Thursday, she was greeted like a heroic warrior returning from battle. She sort of is, given how hard it was for the commission to convince the state legislature to expand the tax incentive program.
"The positive energy is palpable, and our phones are ringing nonstop," Lemisch said.
After Lemisch spoke, three filmmakers took the stage to discuss the making of “Nightcrawler.” That 2014 Jake Gyllenhaal movie was shot in Los Angeles thanks to the old tax credits — which only went to smaller-budgeted films that were chosen by lottery.
"There has been a rap about California and finance, because other people have given more attractive incentives," said director Dan Gilroy. "You start to go, 'Oh, California might be hard, L.A. might be hard.' And oftentimes, writers make choices far before anything ever starts to get budgeted or anything. Like, 'Oh, it should be an L.A. movie, but maybe I can put it in New Orleans, maybe I can put it in Atlanta, I can put it in Toronto.' You put on your commercial hat for a moment and you start to think, 'Well, where's a place that people will want to shoot? Or where's a place that's feasible?'"
Feasibility isn't always something screenwriters may consider when they’re writing stories, but the fact is that the size of a budget can dictate if a movie gets made. Tax incentives more often than not impact that budget. The story of “Nightcrawler” illustrates what’s possible when movies get tax incentive help to shoot in L.A.
Producers Betsy Danbury and David Lancaster were on the “Nightcrawler” panel with Gilroy.
"Everything’s here," Danbury said. "The crew, the cast, the equipment, and you can make it work. You have to be smart, but you can make it work financially.
"Some of the crew members I know were talking to me recently about, 'Yeah, we’ve gone to Louisiana, we’ve gone to Georgia, we've worked there. Been away from our families been away for three months or so. And we’ve been training those people in those states,'" Lancaster said. "We’re exporting our expertise to other states that then get the credit."
"That’s wrong, that's wrong, we all know that’s wrong," Gilroy said. "I hope we’re turning a corner on California filming.
While it’s obvious that the new tax incentives could help the film business here in L.A., what about those in Northern California? Regional film commissioners gave us the story.
The San Francisco Film Commission's Susannah Greason Robbins says there are too many productions set in San Francisco that still go shoot somewhere else.
"A lot of films end up going up to Vancouver, and then they come and they shoot just the establishing beauty shots to make it look like it's really San Francisco. We've also had films shoot in Louisiana and in Georgia that have done the same thing," Greason Robbins said. "It's very frustrating. But we're hoping with the newly-expanded state tax credit that we're going to be seeing more productions."
Greason Robbins said that they have a good base in the area of crew members and that they've gotten good feedback.
"The Steve Jobs film just wrapped about two weeks ago, and the producers on that were saying that it was one of the best crews that they've worked with. Same thing when Woody Allen's 'Blue Jasmine' filmed in San Francisco."
Beverly Lewis of the Placer-Lake Tahoe Film Office says that the new tax credit can help locations around California get rediscovered.
"Because runaway production's been going on for 10 or 15 years, there's a whole generation of filmmakers, accountants, location managers, line producers who don't remember that Hollywood, when they wanted to shoot anywhere in the world, only went to California. They went to Placer County, they went to Humboldt Count, they went to San Francisco, they went to the Central Valley to find these locations."
Lewis is hoping for a return to how movies used to be made locally.
"You look at any of the iconic films that have shot in Hollywood's history, up until 15 or 20 years ago, almost all of them had major impact in small and large communities anywhere in California. With the new tax credit program, this is a chance for these new generation of filmmakers to realize that these places exist here, and they don't have to go to the swamps in Louisiana."
California’s new tax credit program for production starts accepting applications Monday, May 11 for TV projects.