Friday, 20 February 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #235: The Real Cost of Runaway Productions?

The state of California, reeling from a budget crisis is reportedly giving the movie biz a $500 million tax credit." Now this is a state that can't pay its own bills, but it takes half a billion dollars from the pockets of taxpayers to the big media companies. Now both the state government, the big media moguls, and the unions are saying that this measure is necessary to stop what they call "runaway productions."

Runaway productions are considered the greatest evil in Hollywood, because they are movies that are filmed outside the Southern California area, and not because they need a specific location, but because they are cheaper than filming in Southern California. I find this whole debate fascinating, because Hollywood only became Hollywood because of runaway productions.

Back in the dawn of the movie biz most films were made in studios in New York, Chicago, and New Jersey. The first filmmakers to go to Hollywood went there because it was just plain cheaper to operate. The pleasant weather meant you could shoot outdoors in the sun all year round without expensive lights, the land was cheap, and so was the labour, because the cost of living was so low out there.

For decades the studios shot everything they could in the Hollywood area. Wanted to shoot in the great outdoors, who needs to see the north woods of the Pacific Northwest, as a studio exec is rumoured to have said: "A tree is a tree, shoot it in Griffith Park."


Because it was just plain cheaper and more efficient to do it that way.

How things have changed.

Sure California's still sunny, most of the time, but technology has improved and you don't need sunny weather all the time. In fact, now you can shoot in all weathers, and even at night.

Plus, the cost of living and the cost of infrastructure in California has skyrocketed beyond belief. It is now simply cheaper, even without tax breaks to shoot in a myriad of places other than California.

Which brings me to the main question of this post.

Are runaway productions really a bad thing in the long run?

I mean yes, it does cost jobs in California in the short term, but those people who work in the film business have skills that can go with them to where the jobs are. The money may not be as big as they would get with a homegrown Cali production, but the cost of living in these areas are way cheaper, so things may just even out for them in the end.

Plus, the extreme centralization of the entertainment business really hasn't been all that great for the business. It's become even more inbred than that clan in
Deliverance, and is gradually losing its connection with the Joe and Jane Averages in the audience due to sunshine induced group-think. So spreading the industry around, might actually be a good thing, adding more variety to not only the people in showbiz, but the places where they work.

So a case can be made that runaway productions are just a natural evolution of the business, and might benefit it in more ways than just saving money in the long run.

What do you think?

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