The California Film Commission announced Tuesday that 11 TV series will receive more than $82 million in tax credits, as California is broadening the kind of productions that can qualify for incentives — and kicking in $330 million in annual credits, up from $100 million per year. Film projects receiving tax credits to shoot in California will be announced later this summer.
Amy Lemisch, the executive director of the California Film Commission, joined us on the Frame to talk about the changes made to California's Film and Television Tax Credit Program, the economic benefits these productions provide to California and the reasons why successful TV shows are better for the state than movies.
The first wave of the new tax credit program is focused on TV projects. You have 11 total projects — how many of them do you think applied because of the changes made to the program?
A number of those shows are network series, and in the previous program only new basic cable shows were eligible to apply. The eligibility expanded to include all one-hour TV series, pilots, and of course the bigger-budget feature films, which we'll get to in July. That was the big expansion, and we've seen the results in this first round.
It's not just an expansion of what is eligible — it's an expansion of how much money is in the pot. Is that right?
That's correct. Originally the program was funded at $100 million per fiscal year, and it was increased to $330 million [this] fiscal year.
Let's look at "American Horror Story." That's a show that's relocated to California, but wasn't it originally in California? Why did they leave?
They were here, and this is a really interesting situation. They were here for their first two seasons, and they were ineligible to apply — they were a network show — so they moved to Louisiana for their third season. I think they did their fourth season there as well, because they were able to access a tax credit there that they were not able to access here. They applied for their fifth season, got into the program, and they've indicated that they're moving.
And in the case of "Veep," you have a major star, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who has a home here. How important is it to actors to work close to where their families live?
This is something that we hear all the time, that actors and producers would prefer to work at home, but it's a business, and these budgets are studied very carefully — lots of comparisons are done, and they have to shoot in the place that makes the most sense economically.
One of the things you weigh when you're selecting a movie or a TV show that's going to come to the state and get an incentive or a rebate is how many jobs they're going to create. How do you calculate that?
The most accurate way of doing that is looking at the wages that will be paid. You can get very specific and pretty accurate estimates when you look at the wages. That's what productions give us: detailed budgets that include the wages that are going to be paid to below-the-line crew, and that's actually what we use in our new ranking system. It looks at the wages, other spending, and a few other criteria, and that's how the projects get ranked and selected.
And why are these productions important to have in the state? What do they do beyond just having somebody not have to travel to New York or Australia to do what they do in Hollywood?
These productions keep a lot of people employed. It's all about the economic impact for the whole state. For instance, because these are TV projects that will start shooting relatively soon, our crews and our small support businesses that also employ people are going to begin to feel the impact immediately as these first 11 projects begin pre-production.
With the bigger studio feature films, again, they have a very big spending footprint — they spend a lot of money not just on wages to their crews, but at lots and lots of small businesses. Some productions will use a thousand different vendors who are each getting payments from these productions.