Prewitt working to dissuade runaway shoots

HOLLYWOOD — As AFMA president and CEO, Jean Prewitt acts as a lobbyist for independent film producers and distributors. Although many indie companies find an economic benefit in producing films abroad, Prewitt is also working to bolster the U.S. economy by keeping film production at home. As a result, she supports almost any program that will increase awareness in Washington on the subject of runaway production.

“We are looking at federal measures,” says Prewitt, who is also an expert in foreign trade issues and communications policies, “because we view film production on a national level as an economic stimulus measure. The ripple effect of a film production coming into a town is enormous in terms of supporting the local hotel, restaurant and catering industries, and ancillary services are substantial impetus to the local economy of a state.”

Prewitt believes in pursuing a federal, rather than a state-by-state remedy, because it appears to be the most direct way to level the playing field across the board, without giving preference to any particular state.

Competition from other countries for film production is intense. A year ago, with the support of Prewitt and AFMA, the U.S. Dept. of Commerce focused on the issue of runaway production and became alarmingly aware that the U.S., once confident in its ultimate technological advantage in the industry, is being undermined by countries that are luring producers away with economic incentives. Foreign tax exemptions, discounts and cheaper post-production facilities are capturing U.S. productions.

Tallying the damage

A recent report by the Screen Actors Guild Monitor Co. estimates that from 1990 to 1998 the rate of U.S.-developed film and television projects produced abroad almost doubled, while the economic losses from runaway production increased five-fold, from $2 billion to $10.3 billion.

Washington finally is aware that the U.S. needs to find ways to keep the industry attractive to domestic productions.

California is doing its part to keep productions in the state. On Jan. 30, just one month after television and film industry leaders pleaded with a legislative committee for help in stopping runaway production, the state Assembly, in a 52 to 11 vote, passed AB 502 to help keep independent films in California. The bill, known as Glendale Democratic Assemblyman Dario Frommer’s Film Finance Act, will go on to the Senate and, if passed, will guarantee loans to independent filmmakers who spend 50% or more of their production budget in California.

Additional California production incentives being supported by Prewitt and the AFMA include:

  • A state wage-based tax credit, proposed by Gov. Gray Davis.

  • And the Film California First Program, a state program put in place about 18 months ago, designed to reimburse qualified production companies for certain film costs incurred when filming on public property. Producers find the program attractive because claims can be filed online, and refunds processed and received quickly.

Going national

Prewitt says she will not rest until some of the measures taken by California are adopted nationally.

“We are continuing our efforts to educate Washington decision-makers about the differences between the ways that the independents (and) the studios conduct business,” she says. “As Washington is making policy decisions, they need to become more aware of specific issues of distribution that include the increasing problems resulting from vertical integration and consolidation that has made it more difficult for independents to secure an outlet for independent product.

“Clearly we are at a point in the independent world where (AFMA) will support initiatives and incentives that will encourage local film production and keep the industry attractive to the U.S.”

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