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Despite surging pandemic, TV productions return to California for tax breaks

Al Pacino and Logan Lerman in "Hunters" on Amazon Prime.
(Christopher Saunders / Amazon Studios)

Two television series, Amazon’s “Hunters” and the Disney+ streaming show “The Right Stuff,” will relocate to California for their next seasons of production despite a surge in coronavirus cases in the state.

In the latest round of the California’s tax credit program, the two shows were awarded a total of $32.5 million in tax incentives for moving their second seasons to film in the state, the California Film Commission said in a statement.

Amazon’s crime drama “Hunters,” which features Al Pacino, filmed its first season in New York; while the historical drama “The Right Stuff” had filmed its first season in Florida.

At stake is a potential $127 million in wages for crew and other local expenses, the commission said Wednesday. The productions are expected to film in Los Angeles and San Diego, respectively.

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The two projects will employ an estimated 440 cast members, 374 crew and 6,056 background actors or stand-ins for a combined total of 195 filming days in the state. The commission also said the productions would generate significant post-production employment and revenue for visual effects artists, sound editors and musicians.

“It’s really great to emerge from the shutdown with news that two more successful TV series are relocating to California,” said California Film Commission Executive Director Colleen Bell. “One thing that I do have complete confidence about is that we have in California put together some of the most comprehensive and effective safety protocols for production activity anywhere in the world.”

California has drawn, including these two shows, a total of 22 TV productions to the state by using its lucrative tax credits since 2015.

Film productions have slowly restarted in the region, with commercials making up the bulk of activity. Still, some larger productions have been forced to shut down as a result of positive coronavirus tests on set.

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Unions and film producers have agreed on stringent safety protocols to avoid outbreaks should positive cases occur. However, cases have been rising in the region, forcing health officials to impose new mask mandates.

Some film and television productions that had previously been approved for tax credits have since resumed filming. Others have asked for a pause on their use of the program.

More than 30 film and television projects in California’s state tax incentive program requested a delay in using the credit in response to the outbreak. Only six of those projects, a mix of films and television series, had resumed physical production across the state, said Nancy Rae Stone, director of California’s film and TV tax credit program.

The latest tax credit application period for TV projects was Sept. 29 and Oct. 7. The allocation round was open only to relocating series and recurring series accepted during previous rounds. In August, the film commission announced that HBO’s “In Treatment” would relocate to the state from New York and TBS’ “Miracle Workers” would move to the state from the Czech Republic.

It’s not just film hot spots such as Los Angeles that are benefiting from new influx of production.

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“The Right Stuff” will film all 88 of its set shoots in the San Diego area.

The state’s next round for applications for TV projects will take place March 15-22.

In Los Angeles County, filming has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, but large productions such as Warner Bros.’ movie “King Richard” and Netflix’s series “Dear White People” helped to boost local production in October.

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In August, the $330-million tax credit program, recently renewed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, agreed to support nine new movies that will be filmed in the state. The biggest award was a $20-million tax break for the Netflix movie “Gray Man,” starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, according to the California Film Commission. The next application period for movies will be from Jan. 25 to Feb.1.

The tax incentive program, which is set to run through 2025, offers $330 million in annual tax credits meant to prevent the flight of production from Los Angeles to other countries and states that have their own attractive tax programs, including Georgia, New York and Louisiana.

The credits are awarded based on 20% to 25% of the qualified spending on film productions, such as money spent building sets and paying crew member salaries. Companies that receive the credits can use them to offset any state tax liability they have.


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