×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Hollywood Continues to Flee California at Alarming Rate

When Paul Audley took the job as president of FilmL.A. in late 2008, he was astounded to discover that physical production on the $70 million pic “Battle: Los Angeles” wasn’t being done in Los Angeles.

“It stunned me that the movie was shooting in Louisiana, and that the state of California was letting this happen,” he recalls.

In the subsequent five years, the situation has only worsened, despite the film production incentive program California enacted in 2009, which provides for $100 million a year in tax credits for what’s usually 20% of production costs. That’s significantly smaller than programs offered by other states such as New York, which offers $420 million a year in credits for 30% of production costs.

The trend has been mounting for high-profile films set in the Golden State to be filmed almost entirely outside California, due to lucrative tax breaks elsewhere that producers can’t turn down. One key component of new legislation to strengthen California’s incentive program, introduced Feb. 19, would raise to $100 million the current budget cap of $75 million on eligible productions. To drive home the need for state support, attendees at a Feb. 22 rally in Burbank held by Hollywood unionists were handed petitions to send to Sacramento citing that only one of 41 big-budget feature films shot in 2012 and 2013 was shot entirely in California.

The latest example of a locally set runaway is New Line’s upcoming earthquake thriller “San Andreas,” in which a helicopter pilot played by Dwayne Johnson rescues his daughter in San Francisco after a 10.0 quake. Except for six planned days of shooting in San Francisco, the entire $100 million movie will be made in Australia at the Village Roadshow Studios in Gold Coast, Queensland.

In December, “San Andreas” was granted a portion of Australia’s $20 million film fund set up specifically to attract overseas movies. Additionally, the film benefits from offsets from the Queensland Production Incentive Scheme, as well as local payroll tax rebates and federal rebates. Queensland officials have estimated that the movie will pump $30 million into the state economy, employ 70 local production crew, and provide roles for more than 2,000 extras.

“It’s frustrating to get only a few days shooting in San Francisco, but it’s better than nothing,” said San Francisco film commissioner Susannah Robbins. “Once again, the producers are going to where they’re getting the best incentive.”

There were even fewer days — four — shot in San Francisco for Legendary’s upcoming tentpole “Godzilla,” with most of the filming being done in Vancouver and Hawaii. Fox took a similar tack with its forthcoming summer release “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and that pic’s 2011 predecessor “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” both of which were shot primarily in Canada with a few days of establishing shots in San Francisco.

“Producers tell us, ‘I’d love to shoot here but I have to go where the incentives are,’ ” Robbins notes.

Robbins has been touting San Francisco’s rebate program — which provides for up to $600,000 of production costs including rentals, street closures, permit fees, payroll taxes and police officers — in order to overcome the ingrained belief that such programs don’t exist in California. “We had eight productions use the rebate in its first six years, and we’ve had seven more since July.” San Francisco has a tradition as an iconic film location, with such titles as “Bullitt,” “Dirty Harry” and “Vertigo” having filmed in the city.

Further south, not a frame of “Rock of Ages,” set on the Sunset Strip, was shot in Los Angeles, although filming did take place in Hollywood — Florida, that is — at the Hard Rock Casino, along with a six-block section of North Miami Avenue in downtown Miami, decorated as a late-1980s version set of the Strip, replete with the Whisky-a-Go-Go, Frederick’s of Hollywood, Tower Records and the Angelyne Billboard.

Even the ruins of a future Los Angeles shown in “Elysium” were shot in Mexico and Canada.

Steve Dayan, who serves as vice chairman of the state film commission and secretary-treasurer of Local 399 of the Intl. Brotherhood of Teamsters, spoke at the Feb. 22 labor rally, promising his union would be willing to repeat its 1999 action of encircling the State Capitol in Sacramento with 200 Teamster trucks — a tactic used to campaign for incentives. “We are not going to let other states poach our jobs,” he said, evoking loud applause from the 700-plus attendees.

Audley’s agency is tasked with troubleshooting and simplifying the permit process. He’s been pressing the point that although location-based feature production increased by 18% in Los Angeles last year, to 6,900 days, that number is only half what it was in 1996. And the growth is not coming in higher value projects. Audley said. “(Other states are cherry picking the best stuff away from us,” he noted.

Dayan admits that producers have been substituting locations for as long as films have been shot. “Downtown L.A. has been used for New York City many times,” he said. But he noted that production costs on big features are now so high that it’s impossible for producers to shoot in town.

“We’re making the argument that by creating and retaining jobs, the new legislation would pay for itself,” he explained.

While statistics abound that show the extent of the economic impact of locally set runaways, on another level, the issue is emotional. The Feb. 22 rally featured an impassioned declaration by Maria Elena Durazo, secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, who pledged that organized labor will back the push for an improved film incentive.

“We are going to stand with you to make sure Hollywood does not become Detroit,” she declared. “I’ll be damned if we’re going to stand by and see the last film industry worker here turn out the lights. Hell, no!”

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • CBS Studios Exterior

    CBS Credit Union Manager Sentenced to 14 Years for $40 Million Fraud

    Edwin Rostohar, the longtime manager of the CBS Employees Federal Credit Union, was sentenced on Monday to 14 years in prison for embezzling $40 million. The massive fraud left the credit union insolvent. It was shuttered and taken over by the University Credit Union, which assumed the accounts of 2,800 members. Rostohar pleaded guilty in [...]

  • United Talent Agency Reveals New Logo

    UTA Unveils New Logo, Corporate Image

    UTA raised the curtain Monday on a new corporate logo. The three-dimensional image is meant to emphasize the talent agency’s focus on uniting ideas, opportunities and talent. Building signage with the new logo will go up next month at UTA’s headquarters in Beverly Hills. “Our new identity captures the multiple facets and intersections of our [...]

  • Tribune Tower

    FCC Approves Nexstar Acquisition of Tribune Media

    The FCC has voted to approve Nexstar’s $4.1 billion takeover of Tribune Media, paving the way for Nexstar to become the nation’s largest owner of television stations with more than 200 outlets serving a wide swath of the country. FCC commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the merger agreement that was reached in December. Nexstar’s pact [...]

  • Endeavor co-founder Ari Emanuel

    Endeavor Aims to Raise $620 Million With IPO

    Endeavor disclosed Monday that it expects a price between $30 and $32 per share for its initial public offering in the fall. Endeavor — the parent company of WME, UFC, IMG, Endeavor Content, Professional Bull Riders and other assets — aims to raise as much as $620 million with the sale of 19.4 million shares. [...]

  • Overall View of the Rose Bowl

    One Dead, One Injured in Rose Bowl Parking Lot Shooting

    One person was killed and another was injured Saturday night following a shooting in a Rose Bowl parking lot, the Pasadena police confirmed. According to a statement from the police department, police responded to reports of a physical altercation and shots fired at 11:22 p.m. near the area of Arroyo Boulevard and Seco Street, where [...]

  • Felicity Huffman

    Felicity Huffman Issues Apology After Receiving Prison Sentence: 'There Are No Excuses'

    Felicity Huffman issued a long statement of apology on Friday after receiving a two-week prison sentence for paying to illegally boost her daughter’s SAT score. In the statement, Huffman, in addition to saying  she accepts the court’s decision, acknowledges and apologizes to other parents fighting to get their children into college. Along with the prison [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content