Expense reimbursements lowered, leases not signed

As studios tighten budgets and shoot more films outside of Los Angeles in pursuit of tax incentives, some line producers are being hit hard by relocation issues and new costs as they travel to follow the productions.

In some cases the routine coverage of housing costs is a thing of the past. “It’s more common now for companies to give you a flat relocation allowance,” said a UPM who’s based in New Orleans. “A regular per diem would exceed that bulk allowance, but many people don’t do the math. They’re getting maybe half as much as they would from standard per diem and housing.”

Plus, some relocated producers are assuming more risk than before because studios and production companies no longer back their leases. For example, TV shows shooting in Canada or elsewhere might offer someone a flat $5,000 to $7,500 to relocate for a series, according to a veteran below-the-line agent at a larger agency, but they make the lease the sole responsibility of that producer. Since no one knows how long that series will last, the producer can be solely liable for the unpaid rent and security deposit if the show gets canceled.

Like others interviewed for this column, the agent didn’t want to be identified for fear of offending the studios.

“They have everyone signing their own lease now,” confirmed the head of a smaller agency. “In the past the studio signed the lease. What happens to a person if they get fired and they’ve signed a six-month lease? They’re screwed.”

This agent traces the present woes to the WGA strike of 2007-08: “Ever since the writers strike, it’s a new business.”

Money is also getting scarcer for back-and-forth travel. “It used to be that you would get a certain number of tickets for traveling home after being on location a certain amount of time,” said the head of a startup agency. “They’ve cut down on the number of tickets.”

These relocation pressures felt by line producers and some department heads are a new development, an agent noted. “They’re cutting costs specifically on below the line. They’re still paying actors big salaries and perk packages; below the line is where they can save money.”

Another sign of the times: Studio contracts have been rewritten to limit exposure. “Some studios don’t want certain things to be contractual matters anymore,” an agent said. “I’ve been doing this for many years. Now it’s like, ‘Hello, we’ve always had this in the contract.’ But they’re undermining it.”

Like it or not, relocation has become part of the fabric of production both in TV and features. As projects move around, producers, department heads and crew follow the money, enduring hardships and risks along the way.

If they don’t relocate, “They might be at a disadvantage in terms of getting a job,” said a New Mexico-based producer. “If they’re not local to, say, New York, they would have to be housed, given a per diem and get their travel there paid for. The studios can say, ‘We don’t want to do that. There are plenty of producers in New York. Let’s use one of them.’ ”

Bookings & Signings

Gersh signed d.p. Mick Coulter (“Notting Hill”); production designers Russell Barnes (“Hellbenders 3D“) and Cynthia Charette (“Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer”); editor Valerio Bonelli (“Incendiary”); and line producers Mark Allen (“A Good Year”) and John Lenic (“Stargate: Atlantis”).

Agency booked exec producer Jeffrey Chernov and co-producer Tommy Harper on “Star Trek 2″; exec producers Hawk Koch on Warren Beatty’s “Howard Hughes” and James Skotchdopole on Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”; d.p.’s Philippe Rousselot on Peter Mullan’s “Anna Karenina,” Juan Ruiz Anchia on David Mamet’s “Phil Spector” for HBO, Reed Morano on Rob Reiner’s “Summer at Dog Dave’s” and Doug Emmett on Maggie Carey’s “To Do List”; production designers Bill Arnold on John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg’s “American Reunion” and Julie Berghoff on Nick Stoller’s “5 Year Engagement”; editors David Checel on Stephen Sommers’ “Odd Thomas,” Matt Chesse on Mark Forster’s “World War Z,” Elliot Greenberg on Josh Trank’s “Chronicle,” Joe Hutshing on Oliver Stone’s “Savages,” Ed Kissack on Larry Charles’ “The Dictator” and Pam Martin on Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ “He Loves Me”; and costume designers Salvador Perez on Tim Story’s “Think Like a Man,” Debra McGuire on “Phil Spector,” Jacqueline West on Ben Affleck’s “Argo” and Jany Temime on Sam Mendes’ Bond 23.

Westside Artists signed costume designer Hanna Beachler (“Worst.Prom.Ever.”). Agency booked production designers Dan Davis on Stephen Frears’ “Lay the Favorite” and Alicia Keywan on Michael Bassett’s “Silent Hill 3D”; d.p. John Demps on Robert Townsend’s “Disgarded Boyz”; editor Sandra Montiel on NBC’s “Happy Endings”; and costume designer Luis Sequeira on CBC’s “Being Erica.”

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