Few comic book characters are as homespun as Captain America, who uses his superhuman powers to fight the Nazis during World War II while draped in the colors of Old Glory.
Yet even Captain America’s overtly patriotic credentials weren’t enough to keep a film about his exploits from being shot overseas.
The upcoming movie from Marvel Studios was originally to be filmed in Los Angeles. Instead, “Captain America: The First Avenger,” starring Chris Evans, Samuel Jackson and Hugo Weaving, will shoot this July in London, where the story is partially set.
That decision was a blow to L.A.'s below-the-line community, which had been banking on the project to employ hundreds of crew members at a time when relatively few big-budget features are shot locally, thanks to rising competition from other states and countries.
When Marvel, which is based at Raleigh Studios in Manhattan Beach, launched its studio in 2007, executives said they planned to film their first four projects in Los Angeles. The studio has largely delivered on that pledge. The hit film “Iron Man” and its sequel “Iron Man 2,” currently in theaters, were shot in state, featuring locations including the Alabama Hills in the Eastern Sierra, Edwards Air Force Base and the Sepulveda Dam.
Marvel’s next release, “Thor,” also was filmed mostly locally, including at the Getty Center in Brentwood, but also included scenes in New Mexico, which offers a popular film rebate.
But the studio, which was acquired by Walt Disney Co. last year, concluded that London was the best location for “Captain America,” largely because the story is set in Europe and will feature a number of scenes in London such as Piccadilly Circus, and also because of favorable tax incentives.
Though Marvel could have done the stage work in L.A. and shot exteriors in London, it wasn’t economically feasible to split the production between two locations, given the heavy filming required in Europe, said Marvel Studios co-President Louis D’Esposito, who oversees physical production.
D’Esposito, who was recently recognized by the Los Angeles City Council for his efforts to keep production in Hollywood, said he had strongly considered L.A.
“I actually had location scouts here to see what could be done,” he said. “But it would have required so much visual-effects work and set construction, it didn’t make sense.”
D’Esposito acknowledged that Britain’s film incentive, which offers a 20% to 25% payable tax credit on qualified expenditures, was another factor. Marvel could not apply for a tax credit from California’s program because the film’s budget, in the $140-million range, would make it ineligible, said D’Esposito, who personally lobbied California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to enact a film tax program, which took effect last year. California’s program excludes films costing more than $75 million.
“This is one reason many advocate that our state’s incentive program be revised,” said Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A. Inc., which handles film permits for the L.A. area.
Either way, D’Esposito said, Marvel is not retreating from its long-term strategy of shooting most of its movies in state.
“These are tough financial times right now that could pressure us to look at other locations,” he added. “But we have every intention of shooting the majority of films here.”