California Readies for Annual Rush to Dole Out $100 Million in Tax Credits to Filmmakers

The Call Halle Berry 911 Operator - H 2013
TriStar Pictures

The Call Halle Berry 911 Operator - H 2013

Government reps discuss the Film Commission's upcoming reorganization at the agency's annual breakfast, which also includes a panel with the team behind L.A.-shot "The Call" moderated by THR's Kim Masters.

On June 3 the California State Film Commission will once again accept applications from movie and TV producers to share the $100 million in tax credits made available each year to keep production in the state -- and by June 4 it will all be gone.

The many projects that apply but don’t get funding immediately will be placed on a waiting list, where they'll qualify if others ahead of them drop out. That was the main message Amy Lemisch, executive director of the California Film commission, delivered at the eighth annual California Locations Breakfast held Friday at the London Hotel in West Hollywood.

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The event attracted a ballroom full of people from around the state who want to lure movie and TV productions to everywhere from Alameda to Yosemite -- as well as producers, location managers, politicians and media.

Lemisch also introduced Riley Robbins of Governor Jerry Brown’s Office of Business & Economic Development, who noted that the state film commission will come under a new umbrella in July as part of a wide ranging reorganization the governor instituted last year. Brown cut the number of state agencies from 12 to 10 and consolidated a number of programs including the film commission under a program the Office of Business & Economic Development calls Go-Biz. It is now grouped with other entities, including the California Travel and Tourism Commission, the First California First Program and the Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank.

Robbins said the $500 million spent by the state since the film and TV tax credit program was first passed in 2009 has produced $3.9 billion in production spending in the state and created 27,000 crew jobs and another 14,000 cast jobs.

A year ago the big topic at the breakfast was whether the state would pass an extension of the tax credit program. At the end of the last session, the term was cut to a two-year extension but a bill was passed and signed by the governor which keeps the tax credit program for $100 million annually in place through at least 2015.

The event also included a panel discussion keyed around the movie The Call, which starred Halle Berry. Kim Masters, editor at large for The Hollywood Reporter, moderated group that included The Call’s executive producer Guy Louthan, production designer Franco Carbone and location manager Michael Burmeister.

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They told the story of how when The Call first applied for tax credits, it was put at number 83 on the waiting list. Louthan said they prepared to take the production to Canada instead, even though it raised the threat their star might drop out because Berry wanted to be close to home and her baby.

However, Louthan said they felt they had no choice. Shooting in California without the credits would mean a $25 million budget for the Sony release. Shooting in Canada would make it possible to do the movie for $15 million.

Days before the production was to begin, Louthan said they were notified that California would be able to provide them tax credits. They quickly re-calculated and moved back to shoot in the L.A. area on a pared down $11 million budget. They also cut the days shooting from 40 planned in Canada to 23 in L.A.

Carbone and Burmeister both said they always felt L.A. would be better because of the urban setting and their need for freeways on which to shoot. He said in other states such as Louisiana they say they will make highways available but it is often a problem. In L.A. they can find the freeways they need and all the local agencies are used to dealing with productions, so they can get it done more easily.

Louthan also praised L.A. for providing experienced crews, access to equipment, a range of services and making it possible for them to go home to their families at night and sleep in their own beds.