HOLLYWOOD — Rep. Diane Watson, the Los Angeles Democrat who heads the Congressional Entertainment Caucus, has ramped up the campaign seeking to keep Universal’s “Cinderella Man” from filming in Canada.
Watson has sent a letter, with 27 congressional co-signers, to Motion Picture Assn. chief Jack Valenti urging companies to curb runaway production generally and “Cinderella Man” specfically due to the loss of jobs.
“As you are aware, the phenomenon of film and TV productions developed and based in the United States but filmed in another country for economic reasons has cost the United States economy tens of thousands of jobs and billions in revenue,” Watson said. “Studios choosing to film the Civil War-based ‘Cold Mountain’ in Romania and last year’s Oscar winner ‘Chicago’ in Toronto are stark examples of placing profits over American jobs.”
Watson noted that “Cinderella Man,” directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe, traces the rise of James Braddock from poor local fighter to heavyweight champ. “His story is intrinsically American,” she added. “The talents and hard work of the U.S. creative work force should not be overlooked in the creation of such an all-American tale.”
Valenti’s rep said he had not received the letter, which was sent Friday. Studios have long insisted that the runaway problem stems from the far lower costs of filming outside the United States, plus the lack of U.S. government action to provide the econmic lures such as tax refunds available in foreign locales.
“Cinderella Man” has been the focus of recent efforts by below-the-line showbiz employees to persuade studios to film in the U.S. Major recent productions filmed outside the U.S. include “Paycheck,” “X-Men 2,” “I Robot,” “The Core,” “Timeline” and “Miracle.”
In response, Universal issued a statement rebutting Watson’s letter. It read, in part:”Non-domestic production is a complicated and real issue facing our industry. It is unfortunate that Congresswoman Watson singled out “Cinderella Man” as an example of what is an industrywide concern without fully understanding the reasons why this film is being shot in Canada, which are not based solely on economics. One-third of the shooting schedule takes place within Madison Square Garden circa 1935. Madison Square Garden has been rebuilt four times since its original construction so it no longer represents the period of the film; furthermore, the arena is currently occupied nearly daily by sports and entertainment events…. Toronto’s Maple Leaf Garden is the only one of six original stadiums built in the late 19th/early 20th century, sharing architectural design with Madison Square Garden, that still exists and is fully available to our production…. This key logistical factor was the undeniable and compelling reason to shoot in Toronto.
“…Universal cares deeply about sustaining American jobs and is the largest working studio in the world, employing 6,821 people through its motion picture division in California alone….With over 35 soundstages on 392 acres in Universal City, Calif., Universal has every reason to be competitive with rates in and outside the United States and to keep those soundstages and our back lot as busy as possible throughout the year. To date, these stages are running at approximately 85% utilization, usually with Universal productions, although our competitors also shoot on our lot.”