Thousands march to fight runaway prod’n

Guilds target legislation

With chants of “bring Hollywood home,” thousands of showbiz pros took to the streets Sunday to support bills aimed at stemming the tide of film and TV productions fleeing to foreign locales for cheaper labor and tax incentives.

The marchers, estimated by police at about 5,000, were assembled by the Film and Television Action Committee (FTAC). The crowd marched along Hollywood Boulevard, and included reps from unions including SAG, IATSE and the Teamsters.

The march and followup rally were intended to raise public awareness and put pressure on the State Senate and Gov. Gray Davis to support the proposed legislation. The two identical bills, which provide tax rebates for productions that stay in California, have already passed the Assembly.

Tough talk

“We are not a commodity,” FTAC prexy Jack De Govia told the crowd sweating in the heat in a parking lot across from the Pantages Theater. “This rally is not the last. These bills are not the last. We will not stand by and let foreign governments buy our lives and the lives of our families.”

According to a recent study commissioned by the Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild of America, the U.S. lost a potential $10.3 billion in revenue last year as a result of runaway productions.

Among the marchers who have felt runaway production’s impact are Stephen and Seannie Gibson, who pulled their two young children along in a wagon.

“We’ve seen a 50% reduction in our income this past year,” said Seannie, whose husband works as a propmaster. “Everybody we know is suffering. Four or five friends have lost their health insurance due to lack of work.”

Bidding war?

Assemblyman Scott Wildman, who sponsored one of the bills in Sacramento and spoke at the rally, claimed that if California matches the tax incentives that competitors like Canada are providing, production will return here and a bidding war will not ensue, as some have claimed.

“Canada can’t maintain its current level of incentives,” he said. “If we can stem the tide for a year or two, we will get productions back.”

Among the other speakers at the rally were actor Edward James Olmos, SAG prexy Richard Masur and DGA prez Jack Shea, who compared the current situation to that faced by California’s aerospace industry 20 years ago.

“Today, the greatness of the Southern California aerospace industry is nothing but a memory,” he reminded the excited workers, some of whom wore T-shirts with a Canadian maple leaf in a bull’s eye. “We will not allow the same thing to happen to film and television production.”

The Assembly bills go before the Senate appropriations committee today. Wildman expressed hope that one would make it through the Senate over the next three weeks and be signed by Gov. Davis, who has not yet taken a public position.

In the meantime, showbusiness professionals like Arthur and Nina Eishtadt, who have 53 years of film and TV experience between them, struggle to get by in an economy that seems to be booming everywhere but Hollywood.

“I worked continually for 25 years,” said Nina, a film editor. “I’ve been out of work for 11 months now and the unemployment’s run out. I don’t want to have to go non-union.”

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