By Raoul Lowery Contreras
A new season for the television program “Animal Kingdom” is upon us that affects San Diego County, most particularly in the Oceanside area; it is so because much of the hour-long crime program is filmed in and around Oceanside.
Locals sign up as extras for paychecks, restaurants sell cast and crew food, cast and crew stay in Oceanside hotels and motels — money is spent.
Over a season, millions of dollars can be spent.
This is not new; movies have been made in the San Diego area for over a hundred years, before, in fact, Hollywood. Several TV series have been set in San Diego. Local governments funded a San Diego Film Commission that supported production.
A decade ago, the bottom fell out of film production in California. Producers were lavishly paid millions of dollars in direct subsidies to film in New York and Georgia.
California’s century-old movie industry peaked in the 1970s as far as production employment. So, says veteran industry worker Dusty Saunders of the Teamsters Local 399. It provides drivers and transportation workers for studio, movie and television production.
When he entered the business in 1975 at Local 399, Saunders says, “Universal Studios alone employed 800 union drivers full time on any given day.”
Since the peak, the local has lost members.
But the decline in California film and television production jobs wasn’t caused by technology, it was caused by other states’ subsidies.
Said Saunders: “Teamsters Local 399 had 50 members working sporadically part-time at the lowest point of the Hollywood depression.” Recall that in 1975 Universal Studios alone employed 800 union drivers on any given day.
Then in 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law an expanded “Film and Television Tax Credit Program 2.0.” It has since performed miracles for the film and television industry.
As the Los Angeles Business Journal reported, “In two years of operating the expanded program, California has gained 38 feature film projects along with 50 television projects comprised of eight pilots, two movies of the week, 27 television series, one mini‐series and 12 relocating television series…In addition, tax credit projects are on track to spend $28 million across 10 counties outside of Los Angeles County.”
The words “outside of Los Angeles County” are critical to the program in that production is not exclusive to Los Angeles. For example, “Animal Kingdom” is set in Oceanside.
A specific look at the program’s effectiveness is in the HBO production “Ballers” that left Miami after its first two years for Southern California. Eric Fierstein, “Ballers” location manager, related facts of moving to California that are stunning: since it moved to California the show has spent $8 million in Southern California.”
Fierstein explained how the location company “spent eight days in Orange County’s Huntington Beach and Irvine. In those eight days, they employed in cast, crew, extras and vendors a thousand people. They rented 1,500 parking places in parking lots and garages. They fed 1000 using local caterers.”
The company “used 85 different Southern California locations in one season, sometimes, for example, shooting in Malibu in Los Angeles County in the morning and north in Ventura County in the afternoon.”
Statewide the program “more than tripled the size of California’s film and television production incentives from $100 million to $330 million annually through fiscal year 2019-2020… The incentive also extended eligibility to types of production that were excluded before, including big-budget feature films costing $75 million or more, TV pilots and one-hour series for any distribution outlet.”
Overall, a 12 percent increase in jobs and wages is attributed to the state program because it has “attracted or retained 100 film and television projects generating an estimated $3.7 billion in direct in-state spending, including $1.4 billion in below-the-line wages.”
The program is up for extension with legislative action coming in May for extension of the program into 2020 at which time it would sunset out.
This coincides with the entry of new production companies with billions of dollars to spend; Amazon, Hulu and Netflix come to mind.
Can any rational Californian doubt the effectiveness of the “Film and Television Tax Credit Program 2.0?” Can anyone doubt that a revitalized film and television creative industry isn’t good for California?
“Direct employment in California’s creative industries (694,900 in 2014) was more than two and a half times the number of workers that are employed by the computer and electronic manufacturing sector (262,900) …” Creative industries means movies and television.
Should the program receive 100 percent support by the legislature in the coming weeks? Yes.
There is a time and place for government and the private sector to work together; this is the time and the place. The program must be renewed by the legislature.
A note to San Diego’s own Toni Atkins, State Senate President Pro Tempore, the highest-ranking Senator in the California State Senate: for the sake of thousands of Californians, please support the bill.
Like I said, there is a time and place for government action, this is the time and place.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant and the author of “The Armenian Lobby & American Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.” His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.
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