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Quality Crews, Service Offset Puny Film Incentives in California

The California Film Commission recently found that 83% of projects that apply for, and don’t receive, its tax credit incentive decide to film outside California.

Among those that stay, only a few are major studio releases. Indeed, much of the shooting in the state consists of low-budget projects such as the “Insidious” franchise from microbudget horror specialist Blumhouse Prods. Shooting started last month on “Insidious: Chapter 3” in Downtown Los Angeles and Koreatown.

The first two films, also set and shot in L.A., grossed a combined $250 million worldwide. Their producer, Jason Blum, is working on the third installment, along with Oren Peli and helmer James Wan, who directed the first two films. (Leigh Whannell is helming the third.)

“We film most of our movies in L.A., as it fits in well with our model, provides great locations, offers jobs to local crews, and enables our directors and actors to live at home during filming,” said Jeanette Brill, who oversees production for Blumhouse.

The original “Insidious” cost $1.5 million, and was shot at the Herald-Examiner building Downtown. The second was shot largely at a house in Highland Park.

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Blumhouse routinely applies for the California incentive. It got a $2.2 million credit during the most recent fiscal year for “The Purge: Anarchy,” covering 25% of its $8.9 million production cost.

Blum broke out with the microbudget “Paranormal Activity” horror franchise, distributed five years ago by Paramount, and has since launched the “Sinister,” “Purge” and Insidious” franchises. He recently signed a 10-year first-look deal with Universal.

For local crews, that’s a very good thing. The California Film Commission found that of 30 big-budget tentpole features released in 2013, only two — “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “The Hangover Part III” — were shot in California. Films with budgets over $75 million are ineligible for California’s incentive program.

The picture isn’t quite as grim for TV, but it’s not improving. Nonprofit permitting org FilmL.A. disclosed on Aug. 6 at Variety’s TV Summit that Hollywood has seen a 34% decline in TV dramas shot in Los Angeles since 2006-07, from 73 to 48 currently, with 13 of those receiving the state’s production tax credit.

However, showrunners for two series shot in Los Angeles without incentives — “Gang Related” and “Criminal Minds” — said it still makes sense to shoot locally due to logistics and crews.

“We’re in the business of being efficient,” noted Erica Messer of  “Criminal Minds.” “If you need a crane in an hour, in L.A., there are four places you can go. The infrastructure is built for this business.”

“Gang Related’s” Scott Rosenbaum told attendees he can deliver a better-quality product in Los Angeles. “The No. 1 crew in Vancouver is like the fifth- or sixth-best in L.A.,” he said.

Messer added that morale on the set is far better in Los Angeles. “You save money because the crew is so professional,” she said.

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