In a salute to the importance of film production to the state’s economy, California Gov. Pete Wilson kicked off the American Film Market in Santa Monica declaring a continued full-fledged effort to build and protect the industry.
Wilson’s keynote address focused on his efforts to combat piracy and copyright infringement as well as the state’s marked progress in streamlining set location regulations. Following his opening remarks to a warm reception of more than 200 luncheon guests at the Sheraton Miramar Hotel, the Governor pointed toward the titanic size of the film business.
“I am convinced that (the industry) will continue to play a dominant role in our economy and our lives,” Wilson said, referring to the 600,000 jobs that annually bring $22 billion in revenue to California’s coffers. “This industry has been responsible for not just a recovery, but replacing the jobs lost with better jobs,” he added, crediting the film business with pulling the state out of the recent recession.
The Governor was roundly cheered when he noted his individual commitment to combating what he termed as “the rip-off by cheap imitators,” particularly in Asia. He noted that each year $2.2 billion worth of products and intellectual property is lost by the industry.
“It’s untenable to allow them to rip off the industry to the tune of billions of dollars every year,” he said. After meeting with top officials in Beijing on a recent trade mission, Wilson said he was bombarded with counterfeit CD-ROMs after walking only a few blocks from the ministry to the hotel.
In an earlier press briefing, Wilson sharply criticized the Clinton administration for being too “timid” in its commitment to stopping the theft and allowing access into overseas markets.
The Governor also defended the state’s efforts to conduct its own de facto foreign policy. He described his motto of “you let me into your market, I will let you into mine. Exclude me and I will break both your knees.”
At the luncheon, Wilson pledged to continue to build California’s 82% market share of feature production. He noted the state legislation passed last fall that cut red tape, including eliminating the law that required a permit for constructing or dismantling sets taller than 36 feet.
Wilson also spoke of California’s strategy-funding for education in digital arts and multimedia. Because of a local talent shortage, companies have been forced to bring a majority of staffers in from overseas. Earlier this month, he proposed $1.2 million in state-funded CalGrants that would provide 500 higher-education scholarships to support the study of digital animation.
“Today’s current system doesn’t measure artistic ability or potential, and in that regard it discriminates against creativity,” Wilson said. “We’re putting an end to that by making artistic portfolio the defining criteria of the evaluation system for grant applicants.”
In addition, several companies in the industry have agreed to help reach the Wilson administration’s goal of $1 million in additional private funding. On Wednesday, Sony Corp. made a pledge of $150,000. Also, 20th Century Fox has already given a commitment to donate “at least” $150,000, and both DreamWorks and Disney have made firm promises to provide significant funding.
While the region has won back much of the “runaway production” that caused a significant percentage of lensing to move outside California in the early 1990s, Wilson said, “We can expect stiff competition not just from other states, but other nations.”
When queried about the threat of cheap production abroad — specifically a new $25 million Fox Baja facility in Rosarito, Mexico — Julie Meier Wright, California’s secretary of trade and commerce, said the state cooperated with both Fox and Mexican officials to keep business close to home, rather than risk flight to Florida or Canada.
“We know we are going to lose some (production) because of certain individual location requirements that will take shooting out of state,” Wilson said. “I am concerned with losing any jobs to anybody. That is why we have made such a concerted effort to try to accommodate the industry here in California.”
(Rex Weiner contributed to this report.)