Film Czar Ken Ziffren: L.A. Is In A ‘Bad Spiral’ Of Loss Of Movie, TV Production

Ken Ziffren LA Film Czar

Ken Ziffren, newly appointed “film czar” for Los Angeles, told reporters on Thursday that a recently released report from the Milken Institute shows that the city is in a “bad spiral” when it comes to the loss of film and TV production and jobs.

The report from Milken Institute’s California Center, released on Thursday, showed that the Golden State lost more than 16,000 high-paying film production jobs between 2004 and 2012 — a more than 10% drop at a time when the state’s primary rival, New York, added 10,000 jobs thanks to its aggressive courting of film and TV biz with generous incentives.

“What the Milken Report does…is to show that the trends are bad. We are in a bad spiral, and what it suggests is that we need to turn this around and start improving the number of jobs and the number of labor workers that are going to be employed by this industry,” Ziffren said in a conference call with reporters.

Ziffren was named to succeed Tom Sherak as Mayor Eric Garcetti’s chief advisor on motion picture and television production, also known as the “film czar.” Sherak died last month after a long battle with cancer.

Ziffren said that a major focus will be pushing for legislation to expand the existing state incentive program, which he said was insufficient to compete with other states. California allocates $100 million per year, via a lottery, while New York’s incentive program is more than $420 million.

A key question is whether legislation proposed last week by Assemblymen Raul Bocanegra and Mike Gatto will have the support of Gov. Jerry Brown. Their bill would greatly expand the category of productions that would qualify for incentives, like most network, cable and Internet dramas, and would also remove a $75 million budget cap that prevents big-budget productions from gaining incentives.

Ziffren, who has long known Brown, said that the governor and his staff “are very interested in the progress of this legislation,” but they are likely to “take a look and see” and study the proposal as it goes through the legislative process.

“I don’t think they have committed one way or another, nor would I expect them to,” he said.

The latest blow to Los Angeles came on Wednesday, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Walt Disney Co. CEO Robert Iger announced that Marvel Studios would locate production of four live-action series for Netflix in New York City.

Ziffren, however, noted that such a series would not qualify under California’s current incentive program, as it does not include shows for the Internet. But he noted that Disney is still planning a studio expansion in the Los Angeles area on its Golden Oak Ranch property near Simi Valley.

As much as the Bocanegra-Gatto legislation is aimed at addressing the loss of production in certain categories, Ziffren suggested that there may be a need to add a “carve out” or separate accounting aimed at post-production or visual effects. The VFX business has been particularly hard hit, with major special effects firms shutting down altogether as jobs have migrated to countries with generous foreign subsidies.

Although he said that they planned to talk to California’s congressional delegation about the issue, Ziffren suggested that it may be outside the “scope of what we are trying to accomplish,” because it is a federal issue having to do with foreign trade. Los Angeles-based effects artists have been pushing the U.S. Trade Representative to look into pursuing some kind of duty in an effort to prevent jobs from going overseas.

The Sacramento legislation also does not include an annual dollar figure for the proposed expansion of the program, although there is some expectation that whatever is proposed will be in line or even greater than New York’s annual allocation. Ziffren said that amount will depend on a number of factors, including the state of the economy, the amount of the available surplus and the needs of other constituencies in Sacramento.

“At this point our office …is not committed to any particular number,” he said. “What we are looking to do is make sure all the legislators see the need for improved and modernized [incentives] legislation.”

If the number is large enough, he said, it would allow the California Film Commission to allocate incentives on a rolling basis, rather than through a once-a-year lottery, in which the $100 million is delved out in a single day. Although the lottery has been criticized by producers because it makes it more difficult for them to plan their budgets with certainty, it is the way that the program was set up so as to maximize participation and to be objective in allocating the incentives.

Ziffren said that “if the amount were increased substantially, we not have a need for a lottery.”

“With a rolling award, we would still have to find way to make it objective, so [for the film commission] it is not just, ‘What script do we like better?'”

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  1. Eddie Conna says:

    This does nothing to fix the “FilmLA” problem, or the gouging of production by every city and county agency that can get their fingers in the pie.

    Case in point. I had a ONE day shoot. We needed an abandoned road. First problem: FilmLA would not tell us what the various charges, fees or requirements would be unless we paid almost $800 for a non refundable permit application.

    When pressed, they admitted there would likely be a road use fee, conditional use permit, we’d have to hire CHP, LAPD or Sheriffs to shut down the road… even if it was abandoned, we’d need a Fire Safety person, a water truck, and more. Total cost estimate? $6.000 to $8000 for everything.

    Kern county. No permit fee. Application can be done ONLINE. They HELPED us find a road.

    Final cost? $65. Yep. It was $6k-$8K versus $65. The $65 was because we had to rent signs and barricades to shut down the road. They didn’t require cops, firemen, permit fees, road use fees, or all the other crap.

    THAT is why Kern county is now BOOMING with filming… while LA is struggling.

    My current project will be a 3 week shoot in kern. Even with spending close to $12K housing my cast and crew, that’s still a FRACTION of what it would cost in LA to shoot with permit fees, and all the cops, firemen and crap we’d be FORCED to “hire”.

  2. M says:

    The irony I hope is not lost on some people. Runaway production is the reason why Los Angeles became the entertainment capital of the world in the first place, the primitive filming equipment of the day a century ago combined with Edison’s greed forced filmmakers from the true birthplace of the American TV/Movie industry in New Jersey/NYC all the way to Los Angeles, a town which most people never heard off in those days. The year round sunny climate allowed for perfect filming. But those days are long gone.

    The Runaway Production gripping California, all that is their own doing. They let this happen, they got arrogant, complacent, plus California is one of the worst states to do business in. High taxes, high fees, draconian rules on filming, unions, you name it.

    Besides movies and Tv shows can be made anywhere and everywhere, let’s say for example why shoot a TV show set in New York in Los Angeles in some back lot when you can film in the real city for much less?

    • Rena Moretti says:

      Great historical points, M.

      I tend to agree with you overall. I think the confluence of a new breed of owners and thus the inducement for executives to pretend all is well when all isn’t, plus the unions wanting believe the lie so they can ask for “theirs” (a rational response in view of the endless talk of imaginary “record summers” and the presence of a “hit show” in every timeslot has led the L.A. film industry to become way too expensive.

      The subsidies are just the extra push, but the basic conditions should not be ignored.

      It’s also not just the movie jobs that are leaving, California for the first time ever lost population after the last census. The main cause? Companies moving and workers moving with them.

      Should we also pay to “keep those jobs in L.A.?”

      The one issue where I disagree is that location shooting is far from cheaper. You need permits, move your support people and are exposed to many more uncertainties than shooting on a lot. It generally is much more expensive. That’s why TV shows are built around standing sets.

      But overall, I do agree that the problem isn’t just the subsidies, it’s a confluence of elements (including incredibly bad movies and TV shows) that is hitting Hollywood.

      If the movies were better, actual box-office and ratings would be higher and the studios wouldn’t so eager to get a handout in California.

  3. Can someone edit this: “Although he said that althought they planned to talk to California’s congressional delegation about the issue, he said that it may be out of the “scope of what we are trying to accomplish,” because it is a federal issue having to do with foreign trade. ”

    As for all the people that blame production going to other states and countries on the QUALITY of the product, that makes no sense. Bad movies and shows are still getting made in Detroit and Louisiana. I would argue that production is going away because other areas offer huge incentives to shoot or post in other places.

    • Rena Moretti says:

      Since your comment was directed partly at me, I will respond on that part:

      I believe that your view of the problem is not encompassing enough. Subsidies, including in Canada, have been going on for years, yet you didn’t hear the studios acting all concerned about California crews. What caused the change?

      I contend that the change is caused by the lack of money flowing into the studios. They have cut down the number of films, moved as many as they can out of L.A. to maximize the handouts, but, as you can tell by FOX not doing pilots anymore and programming more and more slots with re-runs, there is not enough money to keep the machine going. Many States also cut their subsidy program down or killed them altogether, so where is the last money available? Good Old California, which “hasn’t done enough to keep those jobs”…

      If the product was quality, money would be flowing, thousands would not have been fired from the studio lots (no subsidies for them – their jobs aren’t “cool” enough apparently!)

      When you make huge hit after huge hit and you’re coining money, you don’t go on a downsizing spree.

  4. Come to Australia… English speaking. Very few union problems. Same climate and all the geographical and topographical needs. Plus the Great Barrier Reef plus wonderful super hard-working crews + plenty of private investment. This IS the next Hollywood, friends…

    • kyoseki says:

      .. and Australia, just like the other places that are stealing California’s film jobs, will cover 20-30% of your budget.

      Which is the only reason California is losing work in the first place. Not because of unions, climate, geography or taxes, it’s because all of these other places will use taxpayer money to cover a quarter of the cost of the movie.

      California doesn’t.

      That is the ONLY reason the movie industry is shooting elsewhere.

      Why would anyone film in California when New York state will cover 35% of the cost of the movie? Georgia will pay 30%, so will Louisiana and Michigan.

      The UK pays 25%, so do New Zealand & Australia.

      Quebec has decided it wants to buy it’s way into the movie industry now and is offering an outrageous 44% rebate on film spending.

      This is taxpayer money sent directly to the movie studio for shooting in that location, the below the line workers who are forced to chase their jobs all over the world to the latest subsidized location du jour never see it.

      California’s only choice here is to either cripple out of state subsidies somehow or to join the race to the bottom and implement their own.

      • Rena Moretti says:

        kyoseki: 2 points.

        – Just because other locales have decided to waste their taxpayers’ money to attract supposedly “cool” jobs, doesn’t mean we should adopt yet one more economically devastating program in California.

        – You are wrong to think that the sky-high cost of shooting in L.A. isn’t part of the problem. Ask the Musicians’ Union. They got a great contract with Video Game Developers and guess what? Not a single L.A. musician got a job under that contract last year (I think one game was scored here this year).

  5. Jay says:

    Great! We’ve got a new film czar, Kenneth Ziffren. A lawyer who has never worked a day in his life on a movie set. I wonder if anyone on the “Film Czar’s” staff has ever worked in production?

    Should we thank Tom Sherak that we only lost 16,0000 jobs and not more? How many jobs in the motion picture industry will be lost while Sacramento mulls over any legislation to save the middle class working stiff?

    Every project that is filmed anywhere else other than California is a job loss. Sacramento and the legislators whose districts are not affected by runaway production will never care about the motion picture business until they have driven the industry out of the state, as they did with the aerospace industry, auto industry and manufacturing.

    The motion picture industry in Hollywood will go the way of the Red Car.

  6. Rena Moretti says:

    Funny how those “reports” coincide with the close-to-bankruptcy studios asking California for more handouts so they can stave off the inevitable (at least as long as the studios keep putting out the paltry product they have) for a little longer…

    All in the name of the crews they care about oh-so-much of course…

    California taxpayers would be foolish to fall for it.

  7. johnrichardsullivan says:

    Is there a state that isn’t controlled by one of the two failed major political parties? I’d like to live there.

  8. johnrichardsullivan says:

    He didn’t mention that quality, creativity, and originality have also left the film industry.

    • Rena Moretti says:

      Great point, John Richard Sullivan. The studios pretend that they’re doing great with juked up Box Office reports nobody ever checks and endless spinning of their bad Nielsen ratings, but the sad reality is that Hollywood movies and TV shows have never been so awful (why do you think the Hollywood press is so hard up selling us on a Golden Age of Television – because we’re not in one, that’s why?) and aren’t bringing in the bacon.

      Hollywood is barely surviving on attracting new rich investors to fleece (see Melrose Investors v. Paramount lawsuit settled out of court – and the press) and getting taxpayer handouts around the globe inn the name of “saving the crews”…

  9. TommyFlorida says:

    What do you expect when you reelect a proven idiot for Governor? Motion Pictures are America’s #1 export to the global marketplace. It doesn’t take Warren Buffet to see what competing states see.

    • Rena Moretti says:

      They were, but Hollywood has been going the way of the car industry: crappy product that finds fewer and fewer buyers and an active PR denying anything’s wrong, except to beg for money.

      Imagine the gall of pretending you’re waddling in cash while asking taxpayers to pay for your employees!!! They of course couch it in “save the jobs” language but that’s exactly what it is.

  10. Mike Workman says:

    Isn’t great they still hold the Oscars here? All those rich stars LIVE here, but WORK somewhere else…

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