Optimism on the Menu at Annual California Film Commission Breakfast

Hollywood Sign - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Hollywood Sign - H 2015

In anticipation of state film incentives more than tripling this July, there were predictions that film and TV businesses will get a big boost.

There was a sense of excitement at the 10th Annual California Film Commission Breakfast in West Hollywood on Thursday in anticipation of the expansion of state tax credits from $100 million a year to $330 million annually beginning this July.

"There's an especially strong sense of optimism right now," said Amy Lemisch, the California film commission executive director, "as we prepare to launch the new program. The sense of optimism is palpable and our phones are ringing with interest."

Steve Dayan, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters local 399 and chairman of the California Film Commission said, "We are at the beginning of a new and very positive era for filmmaking in California."

The film commission has spent the past several months creating the specific rules for the very different tax incentive program under the new state law signed last September by Gov. Jerry Brown, which she referred to as The Film and Television Tax Credit Program 2.0.

The biggest difference, beyond tripling funding, is that the system, which formerly used a lottery to choose the movies and TV shows that would receive state subsidies, has been replaced by a program that ranks productions in specific categories by how many jobs it will create.

Lemisch pointed out the new program also expands eligibility for the first time to big-budget movies and network TV series, and creates an extra 5 percent incentive for productions that shoot outside of the Los Angeles area, and for those that do visual effects work and music scoring in the state as well as production.

There will also be two allocation periods each year instead of one. The first period to apply, between May 11 and 17, is for television series. It is being rushed into creation to meet the need of productions that must start shooting this summer.

Applications for movie projects will be accepted between July 13 and 25. Complete details are available on the commission website.

Dayan recalled that it took a lot of lobbying and hard work to get the state legislators on board. and especially to convince Gov. Brown.

"He wasn't necessarily on board originally," said Dayan, "and through a lot of lobbying by you and the studios and labor, we were able to convince him."

While the new allocation is great news for the studios, big producers and labor, not everyone was equally excited.

Andrew Sugerman, an independent producer, whose credits include Conviction with Hilary Swank, and Any Day with Eva Longoria and Sean Bean, set to open this Friday in limited release, points out that independent films are not doing much better than they did under the old program.

"The increase in the tax credits is fantastic," said Sugerman shortly after the event, "and it's great for the film business in California. The one missing component is the allocation for independents has not significantly increased from the old program. It is way too small to make any change in independent films shooting in California."

Independents get 5 percent of the available money each year, or about $16.5 million out of the $330 million.

There are other benefits for those indies who do participate, pointed out Dan Gilroy, writer and director of Nightcrawler, which got incentives and shot in Los Angeles last year.

"When you work in Los Angeles," said Gilroy, "you have access to a pool of talent inclined to work with you where they live. That is very rare."

Gilroy said to shoot in LA, many of his crew took lower salaries than they could have gotten in Louisiana or Georgia; and he said the talent available to a small production is much better.

"We won't have had the incredibly deep pool of actors and crew if we had to go somewhere else," added Jennifer Fox, who was a producer on Nightcrawler. "This is a film where people had to take a pay cut to do the film. They probably would not have made that sacrifice if they had to leave home."

David Lancaster, another producer on Nightcrawler, had special praise for LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and his team. He said they made it possible to shut down busy Laurel Canyon Boulevard for three nights, as well as part of a freeway.

"While it is more expensive to shoot here on balance just because rates are higher," said Lancaster, "when you're shooting a tier-two movie [a low-budget indie] it makes a difference what the level of crew is you are able to get."