Hearing makes case for film industry tax credits

State tax credits designed to keep film and television shoots from leaving California have generated $2.2 billion in economic activity since 2009, according to testimony given Friday during a public hearing in Pasadena.

State Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge), chair of the Assembly Select Committee on the Preservation of California’s Entertainment Industry, led the hearing on the effectiveness of the state’s film and television tax credit program, which included testimony by members of the California Film Commission, movie producers and union leaders.

Since the summer of 2009, the state has issued $300 million in tax credits to film and television companies in order to compete with incentives offered by other states and countries that over the past decade have lured billions in industry spending away from California.

“California’s film industry is under threat, and its dominance has been threatened for at least 10 years. We no longer take this industry for granted,” said Amy Lemisch, director of the California Film Commission, which administers the tax credit program.

Lemisch argued that film and television shoots stimulate the state economy by spending $100,000 or more per day per on-location shoot in California. The short-lived FX series “Terriers,” for example, spent $16.4 million filming one season of episodes in San Diego, she said.

In total, the state’s tax incentive program has resulted in 116 projects spending an estimated $2.2 billion filming in California rather than in other states and countries. That figure includes $728 million in wages to below-the-line workers (basically everyone but actors, directors, writers and producers).

“We’re talking about something that’s not just Los Angeles-centric,” Portantino said in reaction to those numbers, which included shoots that took place throughout the state.

Larry Thompson, an independent film and television producer, said that without state tax incentives, his recent Lifetime Channel television movie “Amish Grace” — about a Pennsylvania religious community’s reaction to a tragic school shooting — would not have been filmed in California, and may never have been made at all.

“We in show business are no different than other businesses,” he said, likening outsourced film production to globalized manufacturing. “Even though in Hollywood we make dreams, we still look to find the least expensive place we can to make those dreams.”

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