Monday, October 04, 2010

CityWatchLA - Hollywood Flight Club

CityWatch, Oct 5, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 79


The City of Los Angeles is the capital of the entertainment universe, home to the most creative and innovative people, supported by the most sophisticated equipment, production facilities, and cutting edge technology. Complementing the wealth of human, technical, financial, and social capital is LA's beautiful weather and the wide variety of amazing locations, firmly establishing the Entertainment Industry as the backbone of LA's cultural and economic legacy.

It's all under attack!

As LA's leadership wanders the red carpet and savors the limelight, the competition is working overtime to compete, offering incentives and benefits that have successfully attracted significant numbers of film productions from the streets and backlots of LA to Canada, England, Australia, Hungary and Germany. Within the US, more than 40 states now offer incentives and New York, Georgia, Louisiana, and New Mexico have led the charge in attracting film and video production away from LA.

Discussions of runaway production typically focus on the high-altitude incentives that are offered to production companies and usually involve large budgets. Even "low-budget" productions aren't really low budget, they're just lower on the totem pole than the larger budget productions but they all involve significant amounts of money.

Proponents of CA Film incentives and tax credits argue that keeping film and television production in California is a solid economic stimulus strategy and point to the thousands of jobs, from carpenter to hair dresser, that will be generated.

Opponents claim that the numbers are mythical and that the handwringing has been going on since 1957 when a coalition of Hollywood unions commissioned a report that claimed European and Mexican productions were damaging the U.S. film industry.

Somewhere in the middle of the "fight subsidy with subsidy" vs. "business without bailouts" battle sits the City of Los Angeles, completely distracted by the California vs. Canada debate and apparently oblivious to the fact that the local Industry is cheating on LA with the neighbors.

LA has long taken the Entertainment Industry for granted and cities such as Santa Monica, Culver City, Burbank and Glendale have been quietly courting the individuals and companies that make the movies, that produce the videos, that design the video games, that market the finished product, that provide the equipment, that deliver the goods, that make it happen.

If the Mayor and his Economic Development Team want to better understand the business and design a strategy for protecting LA's economic and cultural backbone, they simply need to get off the red carpet and hang out at the Craft Service table for a while. Within minutes they'll witness a parade of grips, electricians, camera operators, make-up artists, set-builders and teamsters, all foraging for Red Vines and engaging in a state of the industry discussion.

Craft Service is where the crew will review the Director, evaluate the Producer, analyze the shooting schedule, project the prospect of future employment, predict the economic future of the city and reevaluate their career choices in light of the bleak economic forecast.

It's in this context that the Mayor will see that the greatest opportunity to strengthen and fortify LA's position in the entertainment industry is to simply ask "Why are so many entertainment companies willing to move to Placentia, Santa Clarita, and Thousand Oaks?"

Entertainment entities exist in clusters. Production offices crew up, gear gets moved, hotels fill up, offices and restaurants host meetings, post production takes place, film gets developed, screenings are held, gifts are given, parties are held, nothing happens in a vacuum. Yet when one or two elements disappear, the entire cluster is in danger and LA is losing its entertainment base.

When 525 Post moved from Hollywood to Santa Monica, their new host said "We will do everything in our power to make them and their clients feel at home here." These are the words that we should be hearing from LA's City hall.

As Panavision considers consolidating its Hollywood and Woodland Hills operations and relocating in Burbank, the City of LA is putting its economic development shoulder behind a Woodland Hills Costco. What are LA's priorities?

The Hollywood Production Center offers turn-key production offices and services, the kind of incubator facility that encourages the individuals and small companies that make up the bulk of our economy. Their most recent investment was in Glendale, part of a continuing trend away from Hollywood.

The City of LA takes the Entertainment Industry for granted and then wonders why the crown jewels of film production have left town. It is imperative that the City of Los Angeles protect its assets and its claim to the vital economic and cultural impact of the Industry by supporting and protecting the people and the businesses that make it happen.

Shooting a film in Los Angeles is difficult enough without having to add two hours of travel on either end of a long day, simply to move trucks and gear and talent from one side of town to the other.

Years ago, a camera operator was killed when he fell asleep while driving home after a long day on location. Union members collected more than 10,000 signatures in support of "Brent's Rule" which would limit production to 14 hours a day. Since then, the emphasis has faded as the desire to work has preempted any debates over long hours and travel time.

For all of the glamour and Red Vines, the brutal reality of film production is that it's hard work with long hours and a huge impact on the economic landscape of Los Angeles. Those employed in the industry now look longer to find jobs that pay less, they travel farther to work on jobs that are relocating to more hospitable environments, a term that now applies to Ontario and Calabasas, they incur travel and relocation expenses in order to compete as locals, and they do it without the support of the City of Los Angeles.

People from around the world come to Los Angeles because they believe it to be the Capital of the Entertainment World. They know the names of our streets, they know the history, they know the details, and they value the opportunity to simply visit as tourists.

Our neighboring communities know the value of the Hollywood legacy and they also appreciate it, freely helping themselves to it by courting our companies and wooing our people. They succeed while LA fails because they appreciate the value of the Industry.

The City of Los Angeles must commit to serving the locals who have invested in their neighborhoods, the businesses who have put down roots in their communities, and the Industry that is LA's economic and cultural backbone.

LA's relationship with the Entertainment Industry must start with a commitment to support the small businesses and protect the local individuals. These are the elements of a Great City.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

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