Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1068: The Runaway Emergency!

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti declares a state of emergency near the end of August.

It wasn't over an earthquake, a forest fire, the chronic traffic problems, collapsing or the general sense of discontented malaise that permeates big city life in Southern California.

It was about movies and television.

You see working in Hollywood is like attending a convention that never seems to end. You come, have meetings, make deals, and then go off to a different city and state to actually do the work of making movies and television.

As opposed to the golden age of movies and television when almost everything was shot inside Hollywood today very little is shot in the greater Los Angeles area's famous Thirty Mile Zone.

In case you think the TMZ is just a gossip site I'll do a little explaining.

The Thirty Mile or Studio Zone is the area set by unions to determine if a production has to pay extra for filming on location. Filming inside the zone was supposed to be cheaper and easier, but my oh my things have changed.

The thing politicians like to point and blame for the exodus of productions out of California are tax breaks. These allow runaway productions to legally get out of paying the payroll taxes they would normally have to shell out for the right to employ people in a given state.

While that is a factor, and an important, it's not the whole story behind the exodus. So let's try to break it down...


A) Tax Breaks: As I said they're a factor. States are willing to sacrifice a small amount in payroll and other taxes that they hope to make up in income taxes on a couple of hundred highly paid professionals and skilled tradespeople working in their state.

California, on the other hand, has some of the highest state taxes on payroll and salaries, in the USA. All attempts to reform or simplify these systems usually die on the vine.

B) Salaries: Costs of living is much lower in almost every state that is not California. That means that  what qualifies as not-quite-good-enough money in Los Angeles, California qualifies as great money in Baton Rouge, Louisiana or Charlotte, North Carolina. So the salaries and per-diem costs are usually much lower.

C) Regulations: California does not make it easy to do anything in their state. It's regulatory regime is strict, and goes beyond the normal strictures of ensuring health and safety. They require paying multiple fees to multiple municipal, county, and state agencies, as well as hiring above and beyond the actual needs of a production. Agencies in other states, on all levels, tend to be more flexible, easier to navigate, and more affordable.


A) The Look: When I was a kid I just assumed from television that all of America was either a traffic jammed sprawl, or a semi-arid hilly scrubland.  In fact, the geography of the USA is much more diverse and filmmakers are taking full advantage of that diversity. Why try to fake a New England town in an area that doesn't look one bit like New England, just go to New England.

B) The Talent: Diversity of location also comes with a diversity of talent, both behind and in front of the camera. It's good to have people who look like they've lived in a small town instead of just come down from Beverly Hills.

C) The Community: It's pretty much guaranteed that filming in Southern California is going to be complicated if not aggravating. Cities are poorly designed, and poorly managed, making working in them an occasionally baffling ordeal. Just dealing with the traffic can make anyone scream. A lot of those problems just don't exist in many other cities and towns.

Now these issues raise a question.

What can Garcetti, as Mayor of Los Angeles do?

Of the many problems that are driving away production are beyond the control of the city government. State finances are a shambles and any and all attempts to reform them are blocked by a wide range of forces. The city government is not much better, if not worse. It also has its own inertia caused by differing factions all wanting a piece of the civic pie.

So while Garcetti's made a nice gesture, it's just that, a gesture. Whether he can do something concrete about it, I don't know.

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