CA Film Production Tax Incentive Pays Off

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Thank you, California!

HBO has made the decision to move the production of the series “VEEP” back to California due to tax incentives.  HBO made the announcement that its production will leave Maryland because it will receive $6.5 million in California’s film tax credit program.  This move is part of the $330 million tax incentive program through the California Film Commission.  That’s big news for productions.

It’s also big news for families of crew members in the film industry.  The fracturing film productions moving to so many other states due to tax credits has also fractured many families.  Honestly, I don’t know anyone in the film industry who didn’t end up divorced with one parent working on the road. First, a lot of the film and television work moved to Atlanta, Georgia.  Then, the productions started moving to Louisiana for tax credits.  Now, there are more productions in Pennsylvania.

With so much production work going out of state with runaway productions, that means a breadwinner was living away from his or her home state of California for more than six months of the year and rarely saw his or her children.

If it is a six-day work week on a production, it’s really difficult to fly from Louisiana to California on a Saturday night and fly back by Sunday night to be on the film set by 6 AM call time on Monday.  It’s especially difficult because there are no direct flights from Louisiana to California so you have to fly most often through Dallas where delays are common due to weather.  If one leg of the flight is late, you could miss your connection and not be on set by Monday morning.  It still is an unpredictable nightmare flight path.  So, families either talk by cell phone or Skype… or not at all.  That kind of distance does not make the heart grow fonder if you disconnect to the relationship.

I only know one woman who had her husband quit his job and go on the road with her production work so they could raise their daughter together.  Their daughter had to enroll in different schools in different states depending on her mother’s production schedule.  But the family unit was together.

I also know of one man who invested money in an RV so his family could stay together while the kids were young, but now his family is separated by film production out-of-state because the kids are in school now.

Many crewmembers end up with mistresses or relationships on the road out of loneliness.  I’ve talked to the crewmembers and I’ve talked to the mistresses.  Affairs are common.  The people who truly suffer are the children who are left behind by the new infrastruture of sending entire productions to distant locations solely due to tax credit opportunities.

I talked to a young man who was working as a paid production assistant at the Raleigh Michigan Film Studio complex until that situation went belly up when the tax credits were cut by the state. Productions pulled out and the studio became a ghost town.  Now, he’s moved to Southern California and he’s working as an unpaid intern as a production assistant at a long-time successful film studio. He’s not in college anymore so this doesn’t count for college credit, but these unpaid interns replacing paid crewmembers is becoming the new model in Los Angeles.  The film studio promised him PA credits on all of their films, but no payment for his work.  He’s hoping he can survive financially for a few months so it will lead to a paid position in the film industry similar to the one he had in Michigan.

Oftentimes I’ve heard the joke, “Crewmembers are just traveling carnival performers with teeth.” It’s not such a funny joke when you think about it.  Moving from city-to-city every three to six months is not an easy life.  It’s a lonely road living in hotels.  And it’s especially hard on families.

The California tax incentive program is long overdue.  Not having a strong tax incentive program has created a situation of runaway productions.  It’s time for productions to come home to California where most of the crewmembers’ families live.  In the long run, this move will give young families a fighting chance to stay together in two-parent households.

Always biting at California’s ankles are other states that are willing to create a new tax incentive for productions to move to their state.  Like a traveling circus used to be, it’s a big boost to the local economy for a production to come to town.

Look at the tax incentives state-by-state for productions.  It’s kind of shocking that California doesn’t get five stars.  In fact, California and New York, where most crewmembers’ families live full-time, only have three stars.  Alaska, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Puerto Rico received four stars. Georgia and Louisiana received five stars.

If you had to film a production today, where would you film?

The bottom line:  Tax incentives matter.  Tax incentives decide everything.  And California needs to bring more productions home.

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