Runaway prod’n hears brakes screech

WASHINGTON — Is runaway production finally making a U-turn for Stateside?

Maybe not, but the train seems to be slowing with several key developments last week.

A tax credit bill was introduced in Congress; Hollywood studios said they might pull out of Canada over labor concerns; and Australia, a major lure for big-ticket shoots, appears to have put a lid on write-offs for film investors.

There’s always been an irony to the great flight of production — a multibillion-dollar flight, at that –particularly when the TV programs or pics in question are geographic-centric. This includes the new primetime soap “Pasadena” — which begins shooting in Vancouver this week. On the other hand, a cityscape is a cityscape is a cityscape.

While Fox’s TV series “X-Files” — filmed in Canada for the first seasons — brought notoriety to the runaway phenomenon, it’s been far more difficult getting the attention of lawmakers in Washington, or getting various guilds to agree on an action plan.

Thus, it was with a smile that the Directors Guild of America trumpeted last week’s action on Capitol Hill.

Legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate would provide the same sort of tax incentives that other countries dangle in front of cost-conscious Hollywood. Measure is the brainchild of Sen. Blanche Lambert Lincoln (D-Ark.).

“Over the past decade, production of American film producers has fled our borders for foreign locations, a migration that results in a massive loss of the U.S. economy,” she says. “My legislation will encourage producers to bring feature film and TV production projects back to cities and towns across the United States.”

The bill — co-sponsored by Sens. John Breaux (D-La.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) — calls for offering the credit to productions with budgets between $200,000 and $10 million.

The credit, which would cover films, network TV, cable, miniseries, episodic series and telefilms, would be 25% for the first $25,000 in wages per employee and 35% in low-income areas. The provisions are for productions that are substantially shot in the U.S.

Also in Washington last week, the Creative Coalition held the first of four roundtables on runaway production, with plugs made by producer Lawrence Bender and thesp Joe Pantoliano, who also made visits to key lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Canuck strife, Oz block

Knocking on the back door of the issue, so to speak, was word that major U.S. studios won’t do any work in Canada if ACTRA, that country’s main actors union, goes on strike early next year.

Studios want assurances that they can wrap any and all production by Jan. 16, the date when Canadian actors can legally go on strike.

Those in the know think it’s unlikely that Canuck thesps will actually picket, but American studios aren’t taking any chances.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Australia has suddenly become not-so-friendly territory for foreign productions, with the Australian Tax Office denying a tax break for the Aussie investors putting up the dollars for “Moulin Rouge.” The decision nullifies a financing structure that had been used to fund other pics and provides a dose of fear for other U.S.-driven projects that recently lensed Down Under.

Don Groves in Sydney and Dave McNary in Hollywood contributed to this report.

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