Council mulls film tax breaks
Resolution would support industry group’s call for a federal inquiry into film subsidies.
By Fred Ortega
CITY HALL — It's common knowledge that Hollywood has been hemorrhaging jobs to other states — and countries — for years. Now an industry advocacy group wants to do something about it, and they are asking the Glendale City Council for help.
The Film and Television Action Committee, a non-profit, all-volunteer organization that represents the interests of rank-and-file film and television workers, will ask the council Tuesday to sign a resolution supporting its call for a federal investigation into foreign film subsidies. The group's members include mostly "below the line” crews such as sound engineers, cameramen, set decorators and others who are most affected by the exodus of industry jobs out of California. The loss of film and TV jobs out of state began steamrolling in 1998 when Canada offered aggressive subsidies to attract production companies, said Tim McHugh, executive director of the Film and Television Action Committee. "At first, low-budget features began leaving the country, and today you have the major, big budget features like the new Superman movie wrapping in Australia, and Batman will begin filming in England next year,” McHugh said. "There are now 20 different nations offering subsidies around the world, everything from tax rebates, waiving sales tax and permitting fees, and in one Canadian province you can even recover up to 55% of your labor costs if you are a film production company.” Such subsidies, based on a study by the Film and Television Action Committee's lawyers, violate international trade agreements under the World Trade Organization, McHugh said. Tuesday's resolution, if approved by the council, would lend support to a petition being put together by McHugh's committee to urge U.S. Trade Representative Robert Portman to investigate such foreign film subsidies and ask for them to be removed. Countries that do not comply with the requests would be referred to the World Trade Organization, McHugh said. "Motion picture production in Los Angeles fell by 7,400 jobs between 1999 and 2001, according to the California Research Bureau,” McHugh said. "We have been waiting for similar subsidies to happen in California, and this hasn't happened. We want to level the playing field, and if we can't bring up our side we can certainly try to level their side.” Burbank's City Council has already signed the petition, as have the councils of West Hollywood and Santa Monica. The Screen Actors Guild has also lent support to the committee's efforts, McHugh said. Glendale is home to several film and television companies, including Dreamworks Studios and KABC-TV Channel 7. But any investigation into foreign film subsidies is too little, too late, Councilman Bob Yousefian said. "Deals like the [North American Free Trade Agreement] and the World Trade Organization have already, as Ross Perot said, made a big sucking noise and drawn American jobs to cheaper territories; this is what happens in a global economy,” Yousefian said, adding he was against both of those measures. "This resolution I think is late. Everybody has left the pen, and now they want to close the gate? I am not voting for it not because I think it is a bad idea, but because I think it is superfluous.” Instead of passing resolutions, the council should take other measures, such as reducing permit fees and aggressively courting film production, if it wishes to truly address the problem at a local level, Yousefian said. "Santa Clara has an office that works exclusively to facilitate film permitting, which has grown by leaps and bounds and raised $1 million for that city last year,” he said. "We still run our film permitting out of the city clerk's office and it takes forever to get a permit, so nobody wants to shoot here.”
QUESTION! Do you think foreign subsidies for film making should be stopped? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or write to News-Press and Leader Community Forum, 111 W. Wilson Ave. Suite 200, Glendale, CA 91203. Please include your name and tell us your hometown and phone number for verification purposes only.
FRED ORTEGA covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235.