How California's Revamped Tax Incentives Helped Ava Duvernay's 'A Wrinkle in Time'

Courtesy of Atsushi Nishijima/Disney
Ava DuVernay (left, with Storm Reid) filmed scenes for 'A Wrinkle in Time' in California’s Patrick’s Point State Park.

'Legion,' 'The Affair,' 'Ballers' and 'American Horror Story' are among the 12 TV series that flocked to film episodes in the Golden State, according to the executive director of the California Film Commission, Amy Lemisch.

As the executive director of the California Film Commission, Amy Lemisch has been the driving force in keeping the state one of the top filming locations for the past 13 years. In fact, she's the longest-serving executive director in the film commission's history, having been appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 (she had worked more than 15 years as a producer for Penny Marshall's company). Ahead of LocationEXPO at the American Film Market (Nov. 1 to 8 in Santa Monica), Lemisch spoke with THR about the Golden State's wins and the challenges of her job.

You revamped the tax incentives program in 2015, increasing funding from $100 million to $330 million. What's been your biggest success?

One of the easiest things to point out is the relocating in the television category. In the first two years, we've had 12 series that moved to California. We've gotten four from Vancouver — Legion, Lucifer, Timeless and Mistresses. We had one from Texas, American Crime. We had two from Louisiana, American Horror Story and Scream Queens; two from New York, The Affair and The OA; and one from Florida, Ballers. We can match so many other locations: We can do Miami, we can do New York, we can do Washington, D.C., to some extent.

What about the program's impact on feature films?

One of the other targets of the program 2.0 was getting some of the bigger-budget feature films back to California since we've suffered a pretty significant loss of those productions. We've had a number of the over-$100-million-budget films work in California. When you triple the funding, there are just more projects in the program in general.

What upcoming feature films have taken advantage of California's filming locations?

A Wrinkle in Time was a great project for us to get because it's one of the bigger-budget movies that we've had in a really long time. They went all the way to Humboldt County to shoot in the Redwoods. HBO's Sharp Objects went all the way up to Mendocino County. Bumblebee, of the Transformers series, went up north and was filming in Marin County quite a bit. They also accessed this facility that we're really excited about called Film Mare Island, which was an old Navy shipbuilding facility.

How do you protect productions in the wake of natural disasters like the Napa fires?

Besides fires, we really have probably the best climate for productions that need to be able to shoot outside on any given day. We actually did have an issue with the fires in Northern California this time, where we had a TV series [13 Reasons Why] shooting up on the edge of Sonoma County, and they had to shut down for a week because the smoke was so bad. Luckily, that doesn't happen too frequently.

Some states like Georgia don't have spending caps and give back money on star salaries and other above-the-line costs. Why not California?

We're in a different situation because we are the entertainment capital and we're trying to address the areas where we were losing production, which was one-hour scripted TV and feature films. Our program was intentionally designed to be more modest than our out-of-state competitors. It's a responsible management of taxpayer dollars for the best outcome, which is to increase jobs and production activity and all the tax revenue that it generates.

What is the most challenging part of being a film commissioner?

It's not talked about because it's not a sexy side of the industry, but it's dealing with government jurisdictions to get them to understand why we want to be film-friendly and to make them understand why it's really not a good idea to charge high fees that are barriers to filming.


Lemisch's fiercest competition comes from these local linchpins.

Nick Maniatis (New Mexico)

He's brought in Mr. Robot, the Sicario sequel and the Coens' Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

Julie Menin (New York)

Menin hustled to get the Grammy Awards back to Madison Square Garden in 2018.

Chris Stelly (Louisiana)

The exec director brought Bad Moms, Queen Sugar and, naturally, NCIS: New Orleans.

Lee Thomas (Georgia)

The deputy commissioner helps keep her state one of the most incentive-friendly.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.