We’ve been hearing about the increasingly habitual exit of major studio film productions from Los Angeles for a decade now, and since the situation has been compounded by a broken overall economy, things have only gotten worse. Just a few days into January the situation was labeled a “crisis” by FilmLA, the non-profit commission that liaisons productions with the city and does permitting, and a year later the outlook is still bleak.
Film LA has been doing its part to improve the situation though, and aside from pushing a proposal to investigate the creation of genuine film commission through the city council back in January, they’ve also more actively courted the major studios to keep their productions in California. They’ve found some success with at least one big-budget project- Spider-Man.
The reboot of Sony’s major franchise has traditionally shot in LA, with short schedules in NY where the films have taken place. Tradition is no match for dollars though, and Sony seriously looked at all of their options for their 4th Spider-Man film, for which they’ve already severely hedged the budget and exchanged expensive cast and crew members for cheaper and younger talent. Despite a hunger to reclaim every budgetary dime they can, Sony has decided to stick with Hollywood after the commission and city convinced them that they’d have the freedom and resources they needed.
The Los Angeles Times ran a piece on the subject, which mentions a bundle of films like Mission Impossible IV, Captain America, and Yogi Bear that all ditched California for greener pastures– rather, pastures that save more green. According to the article, Spider-Man will generate something close to 1,000 jobs for the state, which is a great figure but merely a temporary dent in the 25,000 jobs (and $4 billion in revenue) that’s been lost in the last decade. 2009 saw the film workers of LA experiencing a crushing 75-80% loss of jobs- that’s not a figure from which you easily recover.
It’s a tough world out there. California has instated new tax credits for film productions, but it only applies to projects with sub-$75m budgets and barely competes with the desperately high incentives from other states. Even a small city like Savannah, GA where I attended school has profited from the flight of projects out of LA, seeing a huge increase in legitimate motion-picture projects and allowing for the creation of new filmmaking infrastructure to keep them there.
My recent visit to Michigan made it clear that the state’s incredible tax rates are sexy as hell to the budget-conscious studios, and they’re all tripping over themselves to cram as many films into the decaying region as possible. When I visited, Michigan was still without a fully functional sound stage or even a basic grip equipment infrastructure, yet the productions were happy to truck in what they needed to make it work. If that state keeps up their incentives, soon enough those sound stages will get built and much of that work will stay. Louisiana, Georgia, Vancouver, New Zealand, New York, New Mexico, Australia, and even North Carolina all have similar stories developing right now. Good news for them.
If you’re interested in “Film Flight” and how rough it is and has been in LA, certainly check out the LA Times piece. There’s a lot more background to look through though, including a Daily News article from January about the aforementioned LA film commission proposal, as well as Guardian UK piece from April of last year about how few big-budget shoots were in the pipeline for LA. Finally, you can get some really nitty gritty detail by looking over the Milken Institutes PDF, slideshows, and videos about Film Flight, and the impact it’s had on the state of California.
LA must the face the fact that they have forever lost their status as the one true epicenter for moviemaking. If they’re gong to reclaim any of that former glory though, they’ll have to do a lot better than a little marketing and minor tax incentives. Whether the state can manage anything better in its current situation is a complicated and not-entirely-hopeful issue, but one can’t help but cross one’s fingers for Tinseltown, if only for the sake of the below-the-liners, and perhaps nostalgia. I’m not going to complain about more filmmaking in my backyard though, and I can’t imagine all of those others places across the world will either…