California’s Film Incentive Doesn’t Help the A-List Oscar Crowd, It Helps Keep Below-the-Line Workers from Being “Left Behind”
While Kinsley, who is opposed to state film incentives, raises some good points, we at Film Works just have to take issue with his closing line. At the close of his piece, Kinsley posed the following rhetorical question:
“Did you watch the Oscars on Sunday? Did that look like a crowd in need of a government subsidy?”
Seldom does one see a film incentive sold on the grounds that it will benefit Hollywood A-listers and above-the-line talent–the group that claims most of the media’s attention at the Academy Awards. Instead, incentives are intended to stimulate local below-the-line job growth and create solid, middle-class positions that offer good wages and benefits. When productions leave the state, above-the-line talent travels along, but it’s local crew members who get “Left Behind” .
That’s because in many places, film incentive programs restrict filmmakers from claiming state credits for above-the-line and out-of-state labor. Under the California Film & Television Tax Credit, for example, productions cannot claim tax breaks for high-paid talent. The California tax credit was designed to benefit people we don’t get to see on television at the Oscars, the working men and women behind the cameras like grips, lighting technicians, camera operators and so on.
These entertainment industry workers and the thousands of California families they support have been suffering for years watching available work decline because of runaway production. The primary cause of runaway production is a proliferation of generous out-of-state tax incentives for filming. Such incentives were pioneered in 1997 by Canada, which succeeded in attracting film and TV productions from the U.S. By 2001, the U.S. Commerce Department estimated economic losses to the U.S. economy from runaway production at $10 billion annually.
Kinsley assumes all state film incentives have the same purpose: to attract film and television productions and the money they spend. To be sure, this was (and still is), the intent of most domestic and foreign incentive programs.
But, when incentives are enacted in places that are traditionally home to the entertainment business — places such as California & New York — these programs serve a very different, defensive purpose.
Just consider the facts. Before New Mexico enacted its incentive in 2002, the state was not a place where producers often went to make films. Since 2002, when the state brought its film incentive online, 147 projects have filmed there. Similar results can be seen in Michigan, Louisiana, Massachusetts and other places. Without an incentive, there would be very few productions filming in these places. The same cannot be said of California and New York, where a trained workforce and solid production infrastructure have long been in place. Here, incentives just help us retain what we’re otherwise very likely to lose.
So let’s forget for a moment about the lights, cameras, and action at the Oscars. Let’s also forget about cynical — and ultimately discredited — arguments that incentives are just a bunch of handouts to Hollywood’s rich and famous.
Instead, let’s admit that our own state’s incentive is a smart move to protect job opportunities for California taxpayers and their families.