Governor cites credits as runaway prod'n cure

Incentives keep work local, but shoots still off

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was taking credit Monday for keeping the production of at least three dozen movies and TV shows in California, which passed a controversial series of tax incentives for the industry in February as the state fended off bankruptcy.

Schwarzenegger said 50 projects have been approved for tax credits under the Film and Television Incentive, passed along with a host of other economic measures, and 36 have begun production. Movies in the latter group include Screen Gems' "Burlesque," starring Kristen Bell and Cher, which could receive up to $7 million in tax credits.

The 50 projects together are eligible for as much as $97 million in tax credits that can be used beginning in 2011, said Amy Lemisch, executive director of the California Film Commission.

In July, the governor announced that 25 productions had qualified, including Columbia's "The Social Network," starring Justin Timberlake, and "Dinner for Schmucks" from DreamWorks and Paramount, starring Paul Rudd and Steve Carell.

Among the TV shows taking advantage of the tax incentives is "Lawman" from Sony, which will start production this month in Santa Clarita. The show is set in Kentucky, and the pilot was shot in Pittsburgh. It's eligible for up to $4 million per season in tax credits, Lemisch said.

"Thanks to the production incentive and with assistance from the guilds and unions, we were able to prevent this show from leaving California," said Ed Lammi, executive vp production at Sony Pictures Television.

Despite the extra production, the incentives haven't done much to improve the economy in Los Angeles. In the third quarter, filming across all categories fell 14% to 9,680 permitted production days, according to the nonprofit organization FilmLA.

"Fourth-quarter numbers will be a little more telling," FilmLA vp Todd Lindgren said.

Still, the tax credits come with hefty restrictions that reduce the number of TV shows and movies that could benefit.

"The incentives are great, but you do have to have a tax liability to offset, and we're finding there are productions that can't take advantage of the credits," Lindgren said.

As for TV, daytime soap operas don't qualify, nor do game, reality and variety shows. Also, only new shows or shows relocating to California qualify, so "there's nothing in the incentive program to keep television shows that are already here," Lindgren said.

Even a show like "Ugly Betty," which started in California but moved to New York, wouldn't qualify if it moved back because "all prior seasons" must have been shot in a different state in order to qualify, Lemisch said.