California’s Runaway Production Crisis Draws National Attention

FilmLAFor Communities, For Filmmakers, Research1 Comment

California’s ongoing struggle with runaway production has been getting lots of attention in recent weeks. In fact, runaway production is now a topic of discussion in some of the nation’s most influential news sources. This week, the exodus of production from California and the jobs and spending that go with it was the subject of an in-depth article in The Wall Street Journal

As film and TV production scatters around the country, more workers like Mr. Sproles are packing up from California and moving to where the jobs are. Driving this exodus of… workers—stunt doubles, makeup artists, production assistants and others who keep movie sets humming—are successful efforts by a host of states to use tax incentives to poach production business from California… The changing economics affect many major movies seen today. Only two movies with production budgets higher than $100 million filmed in Los Angeles in 2013, according to Film L.A. Inc., the city’s movie office. In 1997, the year Titanic was released, every big-budget film but one filmed at least partially in the city.

Earlier in the month, the topic of runaway production was also a subject of discussion on National Public Radio. A January report from FilmL.A., Inc. — co-creator and present organizer of Film Works, shocked many when it revealed that L.A. based feature film production has fallen nearly 50 percent since 1996. Production of L.A. based TV dramas, meanwhile, has declined by 39 percent since 2008:

Film and television projects are leaving Hollywood in droves as states and foreign countries offer financial incentives to lure projects away… A recent 20-year overview reports that in 1997, 68 percent of the top 25 live-action movies were filmed in California. That number dropped to 8 percent in 2013… And while the number of Hollywood reality TV and online productions have risen in the past few years, that’s been offset by the number of long-form TV and film projects filmed elsewhere.

As 2013 drew to a close, the Los Angeles Times published an in-depth study on the causes and the local impact of runaway production. That study looked at feature film production in the U.S. over a fifteen year period, concluding that other states’ gain has ultimately been California’s loss:

Hollywood’s trade workers — the electricians, carpenters, caterers and others who work behind the scenes — have long complained that they’ve lost their livelihood as states vie for film business with ever-richer incentives. The number of top-grossing films shot in California has plummeted 60% in the last 15 years, according to a Times review of public records, industry reports and box-office tracking data.

At not least, The Los Angeles Daily News and its sister publications recently ran a series of articles spotlighting the issue of runaway production and the negative impact it was having on California’s economy. One article mentioned the job losses the Golden State is suffering and noted that filming outside California is “the new normal” for producers:

Primarily due to production tax incentives offered in 41 other states and numerous foreign territories, fewer and fewer shows are being shot in Southern California. States with rich credits such as Georgia, Louisiana and New York have increasingly been siphoning work from our once-dominant region since the turn of the new century… The number of production jobs in California decreased by about 4,500 between 2005 and 2012, according to Kevin Klowden, director and managing economist at the Milken Institute’s California Center. Based on the industry’s overall growth rate, California should have added 7,900 jobs in that period — marking an actual total loss of about 12,400 positions. The state had an average of 115,000 total production jobs over that period.

While we’re as disappointed as most other Californians to read such sobering facts, and while we hope for a durable, long-term turnaround for California’s entertainment economy, we’re pleased to see the runaway production issue featured so prominently in influential media. And what’s better, it gives us hope that leaders in Sacramento are reading, watching and listening.

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