Short reaffirms belief in H’wood

Production still strong in California

Fears that Hollywood will one day be a ghost town for production surprise the president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees & Moving Picture. But that’s not to say there aren’t a few alarms going off for Tom Short.

“The old studio system doesn’t exist any longer” IATSE prexy Short said. “It’s a mobile industry today. Am I going to panic? No. Am I going to run around like Chicken Little, saying, ‘The sky is falling?’ No.”

“But do I have concerns? Absolutely. We have to recognize that the world has changed.”

Short is hoping to cull answers about L.A.’s future from a study commissioned by the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild that will analyze the economic impact of production flight from Hollywood. It is expected to be finished in a few months.

Short — whose union represents close to 100,000 below-the-line workers — said the fears coursing through the industry are nothing new, even if, in many people’s eyes, they are all too real.

An indication of the health of IATSE’s sector of the industry, Short noted, was the union’s decision in October to move $85 million in excess health-fund reserves into its annuity funds, or individual account plans.

“I remember all the stories about Disney and Universal going to Orlando — there was cheap labor, good weather — and that was the beginning of the end of Hollywood.

“We have to approach it on a national basis in the form of some sort of incentives to do production, and level the playing field. Every other country in the world is adding those kinds of tax incentives.”

Its hard for U.S. producers, Short said, to turn up their noses at tax breaks and exchange rates that, especially in Canada, make shooting there so much cheaper.

“The strong U.S. economy clearly has devalued the Canadian dollar. And the problem of Quebec wanting to secede from Canada has weakened the Canadian dollar, too. Short of getting hold of Clinton and NATO and declaring war on Canada, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about that.”

Last week, IATSE allowed the L.A.-based producers of UPN’s “Seven Days,” for a second consecutive season, to waive vacation and holiday pay for techies as a way to “keep the show in town.”

IATSE members benefit from production on either side of the border because the union represents 9,000 Canadian technicians.

Much of what is shot in Canada, Short said, are “MOW’s for basic cable: WB, Lifetime, USA. They’ve got one-hour syndicated episodicals on basic cable with budgets of $500,000.

“They can’t shoot (in L.A.) because the licensing fees for MOWs on basic cable are around $2 million, $2.1 million. We can’t do it. SAG will tell you, ‘Oh no, we can’t take any cuts, forget about it.’ So will DGA. So they come to the IA, and we say, ‘Why should we, if they’re not?’ So P.S., see Canada.”