California's dimming film star. State mounts effort to lure back movie and TV business attracted to other locales in recent years
Los Angeles — In San Mateo County, south of San Francisco, a local film commission has been offering free car phones to some producers to induce them to shoot their pictures in their area. Officials of one community in the interior part of the state are trying to lure film crews with bargain-basement hotel rates.
After years of watching producers take their moviemaking activity out of the state, many California communities are trying to fight back. They are offering incentives and looking at other ways to keep filmmakers home.
There's good reason for the push. In the heyday of the movie era, some 50 years ago, at least 80 percent of all feature films were shot in southern California.
Today 55 percent or less are estimated to be filmed here.
In one recent year, just 94 of the 175 major motion pictures produced in the US were made in California.
``We have a big selling job to do,'' says Lisa Rawlins, director of the California Film Office, an agency created several years ago to help keep production in the state.
Last week, Gov. George Deukmejian met twice with studio executives and others in the motion picture business to discuss the problem. The Republican governor vowed to use his influence to help snip through the web of government regulations that many industry officials believe is prompting filmmakers to go elsewhere.
Mr. Deukmejian's involvement underscores the depth of concern about the ``runaway'' production problem.
``The problem is serious, but it is not an easy one to address,'' says Lindsley Parsons Jr., senior vice-president at MGM/UA.
State officials estimate that California is losing $1 billion a year in wages and other revenue as a result of pictures being shot elsewhere.
The television and film industry is a $4 billion business in California, employing some 80,000 people, most of them in the southern part of the state.
Although this represents only a modest part of the region's economy, the industry does affect many different businesses. A recent study by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) estimated that for every $15 million spent on making a movie some $60 million is pumped into the economy, given the spending on related goods and services.
Not everyone is so alarmed about the runaway problem, however. A study released by two researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles about a year ago found that, even though other states are capturing more of the shooting of feature films, Los Angeles is gaining as a motion-picture center.
It argued that ancillary businesses - film packaging, production, and distribution - have actually become more concentrated here, resulting in an overall gain in employment over the past two decades.
Still, some local officials argue that even these services are increasingly being offered in other states.
Several reasons are given for the runaway problem.
Many filmmakers have been trouping to Canada in recent years, partly to take advantage of a favorable exchange rate.
Some have apparently become fed up with the maze of jurisdictions and regulations involved in shooting in southern California. There are 83 cities in Los Angeles County alone. Filming a short car chase can require permits from four municipalities.
At the same time, new technology has made it easier to film on location, and many producers are looking for the realism of such shooting.
Finally, almost every state in the country is now trying to entice moviemakers, offering everything from tax incentives to easy permitting.
``It is a nontoxic, nonpolluting industry,'' says Charles M. Weisenberg, director of motion picture and television affairs for the city of Los Angeles. ``They come and bring glamour and leave a lot money.''
Californians are firing a few shots back in the celluloid wars. Governor Deukmejian announced that $150,000 would be spent to determine the impact of the industry on the state economy.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is hiring a person to try to smooth and speed up the process of issuing permits for filming.
At least two bills have been introduced in the Legislature to aid the industry, and SCAG is working on its own strategy.
Few here expect Los Angeles to become the dominant filmmaking center it once was. But neither do they see Hollywood moving to Arkansas.
``These states are going to keep knocking on the industry's door,'' says Mr. Weisenberg. ``We have to compete.''