Television Production Is Up, But Hollywood Still Wants Your Cash

Hollywood begged for your tax dollars and continues to do so.

The argument is that without the kind of public cash that regular folks rarely see, film and television production will flee California and Los Angeles.

Hollywood is special.

A new report from the organization that handles area shooting permits, Film L.A., says that television production is up (again) despite claims that the current tax incentive is not enough for Hollywood moguls to keep jobs in Los Angeles.

The analysis of first-quarter filming says that TV production was up 1.7 percent compared with the last quarter of 2014. Local on-location film production, however, was down 15.4 percent, Film L.A. says.

The organization blames tax incentives in both cases.

"Feature production levels are tied to the availability of California state film incentives," Film L.A. says.

How can taxpayer cash be responsible for both an increase and a decrease in production? Philip Sokoloski, a communications vice president for the nonprofit, says that under the current tax credit, TV is getting the lion's share of money, about 80 percent of the $100 million set aside for Hollywood in the last fiscal year.

"There was nothing left for film to use," he said.

Film's smaller cut, he argues, has continued to chase productions toward states that give them even more cash. Fair-weather blockbusters have all but left town in recent years, however, and it's not clear if a few more bucks aimed at billion-dollar franchises will change the game.

Overall film and TV production was down 3.1 percent in Greater L.A. last quarter, Film L.A. says.

Late last year Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that will significantly increase the amount of money available to Hollywood productions. The legislation gives about $1.6 billion of your money to Hollywood over a five-year span.

"We remain hopeful that the region will also see gains in the feature category once the new credit ... takes effect in a few months," Film L.A. president Paul Audley said.

While the old incentive let TV eat up the cash, with many credits going to renewed series, the new one sets aside slices of the pie for different facets of TV and film. On May 11, for example, $55.2 million will become available to new television shows that shoot in-state.

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An official at the California Film Commission explained that the check won't come in the mail, however, until after production has wrapped and auditing has been completed.

And the incentives apply only to the costs of employing "below-the-line" workers: Stars, directors and producers are not supposed to benefit, even if they do indirectly because the cost of a production is defrayed by taxpayer money.

While Film L.A. says the ups and downs of production can be directly connected to your tax dollars, that remains to be seen: You'd have to trust the word of the producer who said she left town for better tax dollars elsewhere, wouldn't you?

Other locations also often have lower labor and living costs.

Television Production Is Up, But Hollywood Still Wants Your Cash

L.A.'s cost of living is through the roof, and we wouldn't blame you if you pointed at Hollywood wealth for at least some of our high rents and real estate prices.

The tax money giveaway comes at a time when California's roads are among the worst in the nation and when tuition for University of California students continues to head north.

Last year the state Legislative Analyst's Office questioned the tax credits' benefits to taxpayers, saying that they simply up the bid for productions and push other states to do so, too.

The office said the giveaways, to one of the state's wealthiest industries, could stoke a shower of taxpayer cash from coast to coast, a "race to the bottom," without actually moving the needle when it comes to keeping production at home.

So far that's held true: Our $100 million-a-year credit wasn't good enough for the industry because others like New York offered so much more. Soon, the $1.6 billion deal won't be enough, either. Maybe the state should just produce the movies itself, in the name of jobs for white men.

Hollywood has serious issues with diversity. Experts believe Latinos have surpassed whites as the largest racial or ethnic group in the state, but Latinos barely get 5 percent of speaking roles in top-grossing films, according to USC.

Hollywood is its own world, mostly impenetrable to the average Angeleno who makes less than $28,000 a year. Don't blame us if we're not shedding a tear for its production ups and downs.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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