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California’s Bid to Bring Production Back to State Striking Gold

Now that the California Film Commission has unveiled the first round of feature films to receive incentives under the state’s recently expanded tax credit program, producers are indicating that the new scheme is an anti-runaway success.

The tax credit of up to 25% is aimed at keeping the industry in California, despite more lucrative government incentives elsewhere.

Two of the titles that got allocations from the state are set in locales that consistently have lured runaways: New Line’s “Conjuring 2,” partially set in the U.K.; and “Why Him,” set in Michigan.

Besides “Conjuring 2,” perhaps the best-known among the 11 films conditionally selected on Aug. 18 are Warner Bros.’ CHiPs comedy, starring Dax Shephard; Alcon Entertainment’s “Chicken Soup for the Soul”; and an indie film version of David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks.” The 11 films will receive a total of $55 million in credits, and were picked from 254 productions that had applied.

Twin Peaks” creators Lynch and Mark Frost, whose film received a $2.5 million allocation, say that bringing the project back to California puts the picture “where it belongs.”

“Chicken Soup for the Soul,” meanwhile, will be the first project Alcon Entertainment — one of the more prolific production companies — has shot entirely in California in more than a decade.

Co-CEOs Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson, like many producers, cite the high level of industry support as being among the many factors for staying local. “We’re looking forward to working with the greatest crews and top facilities, as well as the convenience of managing this project close to home,”
the two note.

The state’s new incentive program stipulates that the qualification for tax credits be based on each project’s “jobs ratio score,” which provides a ranking according to wages paid to below-the-line workers and qualified spending for equipment vendors.

The smallest allocation, of $1.9 million, went to thriller “Code Name Veil,” produced by Black Label Media, with Michael Cuesta directing. Matt Billingsly’s Black List script centers on a young CIA agent who investigates the 1983 terrorist attacks at the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut — and has to resort to desperate measures when the station chief is taken hostage.

“We wanted to make this work in Los Angeles, even though it’s set in Beirut,” Black Label partner Molly Smith notes.

“This is a prestige indie film that’s going to have a really big cast, and L.A. is where the talent pool is bigger than anywhere else. People want to shoot here if they can. We’re convinced that you can shoot anything in California.”

Casting is under way, with plans to start filming in mid-November. Had “Code Name Veil” not been awarded the credit, which covers 20% of production costs, it would probably have been shot out of state. “New Mexico would have been the logical place if we weren’t able to shoot in California,” says producer and Black Label partner Trent Luckenbill (Thad Luckenbill is also a Black Label partner).

Last year, that’s where Black Label shot Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming drug drama “Sicario,” starring Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro.

But an earlier Black Label movie, last year’s Hilary Swank drama “You’re Not You,” shot in L.A. — and benefitted from the aforementioned deep talent pool. “Because we were shooting here, Smith notes, “We were able to get Marcia Gay Harden, Ernie Hudson and Loretta Divine for a day.”

That’s the kind of side benefit that’s hard to put a price on.

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