Mayor pushes biz, Silicon Valley on incentives

Villaraigosa asks bizzers for ideas on improving city's lensing climate

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa believes Hollywood needs to link arms with Silicon Valley to lobby for state tax incentives to encourage job creation — and he’s vowing to try to play matchmaker between the state’s key hubs of media-centric industry.

“We’re seeing more collaboration between the digital arts and Hollywood so there needs to be some kind of grand bargain,” Villaraigosa said Wednesday during a brainstorming sesh held with producers, studio execs and location managers. The confab drew about 50 participants including producers Jon Turteltaub, Albert Berger, Andy Frazier, Chris Ranta, Natalya Petrosova and Jeff Valdez, California film commissioner Amy Lemisch and FilmL.A. chief Paul Audley.

The 90-minute session, aimed at provoking suggestions to improve the showbiz climate at the ground level, included ideas such as Turteltaub’s notion to make on-location filming sites more tourist-friendly by offering specific info about the productions rather than trying to keep those details under the radar.

Turteltaub emphasized that in his experience, it’s usually cheaper for productions to stay in L.A. — until out-of-state tax incentives are factored in.

“If it’s simply about the (budget) math, the state has to come up with the answer,” he said during the sesh hosted at the offices of Variety and LA 411. “The question is, what can the film industry do to make that happen? We want to stay. …There have got to be things we can do to incentivize the state to incentivize us to stay.”

Villaraigosa didn’t offer specifics as to how to form such a Hollywood-Silicon Valley alliance other than saying that the two sectors should be working together since they’re both creating jobs in a shaky economy.

“One of the things I’ve been saying is that we need to package this going into the future,” he added. “We really have to exploit the power of job creation.”

Villaraigosa’s comments stemmed from discussion about pending legislation for a five-year extension of California’s 3-year-old Film & Television Tax Credit Program, which has allocated $400 million in credits so far. The bill, currently awaiting approval by the Senate Appropriations Committee, faces extinction until next year’s legislative sessions if it’s not moved out of the panel by the end of today.

Villaraigosa and Lemisch were candid about the fact that California’s $100 million-a-year program is dwarfed by other states’ offerings, particularly New York. Turteltaub spoke from experience of having unsuccessfully applied for a credit to keep his upcoming USA Network drama series “Common Law” in L.A. The show was too low on the state’s waiting list to qualify, so it set up shop in New Orleans. On the other hand, location scout Patrick Mignano noted that California incentives tipped the scales to allow Warner Bros.’ upcoming feature “Gangster Squad” to lense in the city in which it is set.

The mayor, who served as speaker of the Assembly between 1998 and 2000, touted the potential partnership with Silicon Valley as a way of helping overcome the hurdles that showbiz traditionally faces in getting Sacramento to back production incentive bills.

“The Northern California Democrats never saw the value of this,” he noted, adding that he’d lobby Sen. Darrell Steinberg, chair of the appropriations panel, to push ahead on the bill. Steinberg’s home district is in Sacramento.

Audley noted that Villaraigosa’s made it a priority to improve the filming environment through such efforts as making most municipal facilities, including the Mayor’s City Hall office, available for filming without charge along with a free parking program. He also noted that the Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power has also installed power utility nodes for use by film productions (instead of generators) at the Los Angeles Zoo, the Dept. of Water and Power John Ferraro Building and City Hall.

Lemisch, who administers the credits program, cited a study said the first three years of the tax credit program have generated $2.8 billion in economic activity, more than half of which has been in below-the-line expenditures. She noted that producers aren’t able to use the credits until after post-production is completed.

“So the economic impact comes first,” she added. “The program’s able to target productions that are at risk to leave California.”

Line producer Alex Moon told the confab that he’d like to see permit and fire marshal fees reduced or eliminated — noting that there are no such fees in locations such as Rhode Island. “As a line producer, a quick fix would be to waive those kind of fees,” he added.

David Phelps, speaking for the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers, suggested that Los Angeles City Council members who are former state legislators — such as Paul Koretz and Richard Alarcon — should be enlisted to push for extension of the credits. Valdez, co-chairman of Maya Entertainment, raised the idea of enlisting the state’s giant CalPERS pension fund to put some of its financial muscle behind showbiz job-creation initiatives.

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