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A SPECIAL REPORT ON THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ECONOMY : THE SOUTHLAND'S INDUSTRIES : Would-Be Hollywoods Wooing Movie, TV Productions

November 15, 1987|JAMES BATES | Times Staff Writer

Hooray for Canada.

And Texas, North Carolina, Arkansas, Wyoming, Florida, Illinois and all the other places that want to be the next Hollywood.

The names may not sound glamorous and there are no "Hooray for Hollywood" songs penned for them yet. But these and other areas where it is cheaper to make films and television shows are increasingly siphoning off movie and television business from Southern California to the tune of about $1 billion a year, according to state officials.

Experts believe that the trend of runaway production will continue over the next few years, thus crimping the growth of local studios. In addition, more movie-making facilities will be built in other parts of the country. Giant MCA, for instance, is building a major new production facility near Orlando, Fla.

But experts also agree that although the lost production will hurt, it won't significantly damage the infrastructure of the region's $5-billion-a-year film and television business. The nature of the business is temporary, they argue, and after runaway productions are completed the cast and crew typically return to Southern California--where most of them live and where they look for their next job.

"The labor and talent still remains here head and shoulders above everywhere else. As long as the deals are made here, control will remain here," said Lisa Rawlins, director of the California Film Commission.

The film and television business has been one of Southern California's core industries since the days of Cecil B. DeMille, Adolph Zukor and Samuel Goldwyn.

State officials estimate that 230,000 people in California currently work either directly in film and television or in related businesses. For the first six months of this year, there were 96 feature theatrical films produced in California, up 32% from a year earlier, according to film office figures.

The numbers were distorted because of a threatened directors' strike. Still, the state estimates that the number of productions will rise by about 10% this year from 1986.

But despite the increase in production, Hollywood's stature as the film and television center of the world is clearly eroding, primarily due to competition from Canada, where productions cost 25% to 30% less because of the weaker Canadian dollar.

"When you can lessen by 30% the costs just by going over the border you'll come here," said Neil Harris, a Toronto tax attorney who estimates that U.S. television and film companies will produce about $400 million (U.S.) in productions in Canada this year.

The stakes are high. California's film commission estimates that the average production budget of a feature film is $12 million, of which one-third, or $4 million, is spent on location for such things as hotel rooms, meals and extras.

"Every time a feature film leaves California it is taking at least $4 million in production dollars that could have been spent here," Rawlins said.

In Canada, studios in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto are booked solid. Streets in Vancouver are made to look like ones in Seattle, and downtown Toronto is used by producers to film stories set in New York City.

"You can change the street names here, put up an American flag and it looks like America," Harris said.

Runaway productions--anything shot outside Hollywood--are nothing new. In the 1960s, Westerns were filmed on location in Spain or Italy because it was cheaper. And many independent film makers have shot their pictures in places such as North Carolina and Arkansas, partly because they could use non-union crews.

Increasingly, however, convenience is playing a role. Producers are finding that they can go on location and also get the kind of services and facilities they used to have to return to Hollywood to get.

For five weeks last fall, scenes from the the movie "RoboCop" were shot on 15,000-square-foot computerized sound stage at the Studios at Las Colinas in suburban Dallas. The 47-acre, $50-million communications complex, was founded in 1982 and has been the site for filming of such movies as "Silkwood" and "Trip to Bountiful."

"RoboCop," a futuristic film about a crime-fighting robot, had nothing to do with Dallas, but its producers liked the buildings they found in the city. Not long ago, they would have packed up and moved back to Hollywood for stage shots after finishing shooting outdoors.

Instead, the production stayed in Dallas, renting a computerized, 15,000-square-foot sound stage for $1,500 a day. A comparable stage in Hollywood would cost from $2,500 to $3,000, according to Las Colinas officials.

"They realized there were sound stages here and that they could stay and do the stage work here as well. It's more costly to pack everything up, go back to Los Angeles and either bring the crew with you or hire a new crew," said Jennifer Loeb, director of marketing and production for the Dallas Communications Complex, where the studios are housed.

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