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Rep. Howard Berman Seeks Tax Credit Extensions for U.S. Film Production

Howard Berman Headshot - P 2012
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Rep. Howard Berman

The credits, now pending in Congress, are aimed at countering the incentives offered by foreign film boards by lowering the cost of capital on any film that is at least 75% produced in the United States.

In this politically divided era, the very word “bipartisan” carries an almost inescapable whiff of cinematic fantasy. So it seems somehow right that, in a rare gesture of Democratic-Republican cooperation, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Valley Village, and Rep. David Drier, R-San Dimas, are co-sponsoring a House bill that would revive popular film tax credits that expired in December.

The credits, which are designed to slow the shift of film production out of Hollywood, were in place from 2008 through the end of last year. The Berman-Drier proposal would apply them to productions begun during the next two years. Like its predecessors, which the two veteran congressmen also co-sponsored, these tax credits are aimed at countering the incentives offered by foreign film boards by lowering the cost of capital on any film that is at least 75 percent produced in the United States. From the local Hollywood and Los Angeles perspective, it does not address the issue of productions lured out of town by inducements offered in other states -- an issue of increasing concern to the “below the line” workers in the film and television industries.

“We must make every effort to keep American productions here in the United States,” Berman said. “Entertainment jobs support middle-class families in the San Fernando Valley, throughout Los Angeles and across the nation and should not be exported abroad.”

Said Dreier, a ranking member of California’s GOP delegation in the House: “Jobs are our No. 1 priority, and this bill will help more people find good jobs in California and across the U.S. We need to create an environment that will keep entertainment productions here so that caterers, makeup artists and other small businesses that support them can create jobs too. This is a common-sense bill that deserves bipartisan support.”

Berman, who has long been the entertainment industry’s go-to-lawmaker on issues vital to its interests -- particularly those touching on piracy and intellectual property -- is locked in an extraordinarily tight primary contest with fellow Democrat Rep. Brad Sherman. The two lawmakers were pushed into the same district by California’s recent reapportionment. Drier, who is regarded as one of the few remaining Republican moderates in the House, has decided not to run in his new district, which is now heavily Democratic. The east San Gabriel Valley and San Dimas district he represented for many years is home to large numbers of craft services workers.

Berman’s re-election campaign is strongly supported by Hollywood’s political heavyweights, including Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, and by many of the entertainment industry’s top executives. The local Democratic establishment made sure Berman was on hand to greet President Obama last week when he landed at Burbank Airport on his way to dinner at George Clooney’s house.

Berman and Drier point out that runaway foreign production has become a national issue. With production of movies and TV programs now occurring throughout the United States, this industry creates well-paying jobs and generates tangible economic benefits to cities and states nationwide. A typical motion picture employs 350-500 people. Production jobs have an average salary that is 73 percent higher than the current nationwide average. A major motion picture shooting on location contributes $225,000 on average every day to the local economy, so it is no surprise that it is seen as a critical engine of economic development in many places across the country.

Thus, the lawmakers argue, extension of the tax not only will help to promote well-paying film industry jobs but will have a ripple effect across broad sectors of the economy by generating revenue and employment opportunities for a wide range of local businesses, such as caterers, dry cleaners, lodging, equipment rental facilities, transportation vendors and many others.

A lot of those jobs will be in the San Fernando Valley, which Berman and his blue-chip entertainment industry supporters are hoping voters will notice.