Supporters say new legislation to beef up California’s existing tax incentive program will help stem runaway production and bring more music scoring work to the state
by Linda A. Rapka
Actions shining a spotlight on California’s hemorrhaging film and TV industry continue to garner widespread support for new legislation that would sweeten the state’s production tax incentive program.
Hundreds of Californians affected by runaway production attended a series of demonstrations in recent weeks pushing for the passage of AB 1839, which supporters say will help stem runaway production and put Hollywood back on the map as a leading player in the film and TV production industry.
Musicians are among many worker groups in support of the bill, which contains a new provision that would enhance how the California tax credit applies to post-production work for music scoring.
On March 7, rank-and-file violinist Rafael Rishik joined AFM Local 47 Secretary/Treasurer Gary Lasley at the California Democratic State Convention in downtown Los Angeles. Having just arrived from a recording session at Sony Studios for the upcoming “Godzilla” movie, Rishik gave the Labor Caucus a firsthand account of the toll runaway productions are taking on musicians in Los Angeles.
“For generations, some of the greatest musicians in the world have been drawn to California because of the motion picture and television industry,” he said. “Over the past few years, runaway film productions have been a big hit to our economy. This is especially hard for musicians because companies that take film tax credits increasingly score their films overseas, and we lose out on that work.”
Rishik went on to describe his involvement with the union’s game plan to restore Hollywood’s recording industry.
“Musicians are no longer going to stand for business as usual,” he said. “We are coming together to create a positive change in the film industry.” His closing words, met with riotous applause, resounded throughout the caucus: “Help us in our campaign to keep the recording industry alive and well for generations to come. Will you stand with us?”
As the problem of runaway production continues to grow, rank-and-file musicians are standing together to turn the tide.
In advance of the first hearing for AB 1839 on March 25, AFM Local 47 put out a call to action for musicians to show their support. With close to 600 signatures in hand, Secretary/Treasurer Lasley hand-delivered the stack of petitions to Sacramento where he along with 40 others spoke urging the Assembly Arts and Entertainment Committee to support the bill. The committee voted unanimously to move the bill forward to the Revenue and Taxation Committee.
AB 1839 would lift a $75 million budget cap on production and extend eligibility from only basic cable shows to include all network and cable dramas. The current $100-million per year funding, much lower than what other states offer (New York allocates $420 per year to productions), will likely increase significantly, though lawmakers have yet to set a dollar figure.
The issue of runaway production is a prime focus of the American Federation of Musicians on the international and local levels. Over the past several years the union has held demonstrations in California, New York and Ohio, calling out production studios that accept millions in U.S. tax incentives to film here but send the music scoring and other post-production work overseas.
“Musicians represented by Locals across the country are working together to change our industry” said AFM Organizing Director Paul Frank. “AFM members are uniting in order to win higher standards and grow the strength of our union.”
Last month the Federation hired Ed Gutierrez as the AFM’s Western Organizing Coordinator. The position was created to provide support to AFM Locals on the west coast committed to building their organizing capacity.
Gutierrez, who brings 15 years of experience as an organizer, research analyst and strategic campaigner, is pleased with the work that is already in motion.
“We’re building our base and seeing more musicians come together across the union,” Gutierrez said. “The momentum within the membership is building and it’s an exciting time for our union.”
On March 15, about a dozen Local 47 musicians joined more than 600 entertainment workers in the San Fernando Valley for a rally hosted by Independent Studio Services, a major Hollywood prop house in Sunland. Speaking alongside local and state policymakers, area vendors shared how runaway production is hurting their businesses — and in some tragic cases, shutting them down completely.
Southland Lumber, once a leading supplier to studios including Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount and Sony, was forced to close its doors in February. Co-owner David Cromwell called his family business after 67 years “another casualty of runaway production,” saying it could have been saved if California’s production tax credit program were on par with rival states and countries.
“We need to create a compelling reason to keep production here,” said Jason Waggoner of Star Waggons, who said his Sylmar-based business continues to shrink as productions are increasingly lured out of state by more enticing tax incentives elsewhere.
California Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, who co-authored AB 1839, promised he won’t let our entertainment industry suffer the same fate as the auto and aerospace industries.
“We’re going big and we’re not going home,” he said to enthusiastic cheers.
The rally came three weeks after an I.A.T.S.E. Local 80 kickoff event in Burbank that drew a standing-room-only crowd of over 700. At the event, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor Secretary/Treasurer Maria Elena Durazo vowed to “make sure Hollywood does not become Detroit.”
The California Film and Television Production Alliance says additional rallies are planned up and down the state.