How California's Billion-Dollar Incentive Program Is Winning Back Productions

8:00 AM 5/19/2017

by Bryn Elise Sandberg

The new $1.55B program is proving effective in luring TV and film projects including the Ava DuVernay-directed 'A Wrinkle in Time,' HBO's 'Westworld' and NBC's 'This Is Us.'

'Westworld'
'Westworld'
Courtesy of HBO

California set out to curb runaway production in 2015 with a revamped $1.55 billion incentives program. It's been so impactful that the state has not only kept many new productions local, it also has lured back a handful of TV shows from afar. The program is sure to be one hot topic when the state's regional film liaisons gather May 20 at the Film in California Conference. "The projects accepted into Program 2.0 thus far are spending $3.9 billion," says California Film Commission executive director Amy Lemisch.

Every 12 months, the state divides its $330 million annual payout: 40 percent is earmarked for TV pilots and series, with an additional 20 percent allocated for relocating shows — while films get 40 percent. But the cash shifts slightly as projects develop. THR followed the money for the program's second year.

  • Recurring TV Series

    'Westworld'
    'Westworld'
    Courtesy of John P. Johnson/HBO

    The largest portion of the pie for TV is taken up by recurring series. California is home to 10 such shows, everything from HBO's nota­bly expensive drama Westworld and The CW's musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to NBC's runaway hit This Is Us and USA Network's controversial drama Shooter. CBS' medical drama Code Black also films in the state and employed the largest number of extras and stand-ins in the past year — 10,894, to be exact.

  • Feature Films

    DuVernay (center) on the Santa Clarita set of 'A Wrinkle in Time.'
    DuVernay (center) on the Santa Clarita set of 'A Wrinkle in Time.'
    Courtesy of LTLA Communications

    Big-budget movies usually shoot in Georgia, Louisiana, Canada or other locations where studios can get money back on expensive star salaries (i.e., Leonardo DiCaprio's $20 million paycheck per film) — but California in the past year has hosted such features as Disney's Ava DuVernay-directed A Wrinkle in Time and Warner Bros.' Lady Gaga-fronted A Star Is Born remake. The film category boasts the priciest project in the program, a Paramount film with a $100 million-plus budget.

  • Relocating TV Series

    'Legion'
    'Legion'
    Courtesy of Michelle Faye/FX

    Four series relocated to California from elsewhere: Showtime's The Affair and Netflix's The OA moved from New York, while FX's Legion and Fox's Lucifer came from Vancouver. They bring the total number of relocated series under the program to 11 — past moves include FX's American Horror Story (from Louisiana), HBO's Ballers (Florida) and Veep (Maryland). A returning series gets a 25 percent credit for its first California-based season and 20 percent after that.

  • New TV Series

    'Heathers'
    'Heathers'
    Courtesy of TV Land

    To qualify as a new show, a project must be scripted, run at least 40 minutes and have a $1 million per episode minimum budget. HBO has two high-profile upcoming series that made the cut: Alan Ball's dramedy Here, Now and the Amy Adams thriller Sharp Objects. Also in the mix is NBC's Menendez Brothers series, Law & Order: True Crime, TV Land's Heathers reboot and Seth MacFarlane's Fox drama Orville, which sports a $40 million price tag.

  • TV Pilots

    Sutter shooting 'Mayans MC.'
    Sutter shooting 'Mayans MC.'
    Courtesy of Prashant Gupta/FX

    Pilots comprise the smallest category — in both numbers and dollar amounts. Only five currently are in the program, the most notable of which is Kurt Sutter's Sons of Anarchy spinoff Mayans MC. Other pilots that got the 20 percent tax credit after meeting requirements — $1 million budget and 40-minute episode length — include Fox's McG-directed Behind Enemy Lines reboot and the CBS dramas The Get and S.W.A.T. (from The Shield's Shawn Ryan).

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