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Incentives Needed to Keep Film, TV Production

October 09, 2000|RICHARD MASUR | Richard Masur is an actor and a former president of the Screen Actors Guild

I was deeply disappointed by the lack of context and understanding in the article published by The Times on Oct. 1, "Greetings From Vancouver," by Brian Lowry. Here's another perspective.

U.S. film and television production has been leaving Los Angeles and other U.S. cities at an alarming rate. Some may say it is due to escalating U.S. production costs. Others claim it is a result of favorable exchange rates with other countries. I, and many others who are actively engaged in the production of film and television product, know that the primary, overwhelming reason is that U.S. film and television production is actively being lured away from home through the concerted efforts of the governments of many other countries.

These countries are offering an ever-growing list of financial incentives to U.S. producers in an effort to build their own production capacity and increase their share of the worldwide production industry.

There is no "free market" at work here. Other countries, recognizing the value of film and television production to their future economic health, are virtually bribing U.S. producers to make their films and TV series outside the United States. They have demonstrated that they value this industry and will do whatever it takes to make themselves attractive as production centers.

In stark contrast, though several U.S. states and municipalities offer incentives in order to compete within the U.S. film industry, the government of the United States has never lifted a finger to create incentives or otherwise encourage production here at home. Naturally, our producers find the attitude, level of support and financial incentives offered by other countries more attractive than our own.

Since the inception of the movie business, the United States has dominated the worldwide production of films and television programming. Over the decades, we have developed a technique of conceiving and shooting this product, which constitutes a propriety technology. We know how to make the kind of movies and TV shows the world wants to watch.

For the past several years, the U.S. film and television industry has been actively engaged in transferring the proprietary technology of U.S. film and TV production to Canada, Mexico, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, the U.K. and South Africa, among many others. In addition, the industry has been wooed into building large amounts of permanent infrastructure in these non-U.S. production centers. These countries are aggressive competitors and are beginning to represent a serious threat to the future of U.S. film and television production. In the area of independent film and TV, this threat is not in the future; it is here and now.

When a production travels to a town to shoot, it employs many people directly: cast, production crew, drivers, caterers, office personnel. But it also pumps money into the local economy in other ways. A film or television production requires building materials, transportation, food, housing, all purchased locally. When a production leaves this country, it also takes all that employment and income with it to the local economy in which it shoots. And the vast majority of the budget of such a production is spent and remains where it is shot.

In 1998, according to a report commissioned by the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America, some $2 billion of American production money, which could have been spent in U.S. towns and cities, was left behind in Canada. And Canada, though currently the largest out-of-country production center for U.S. film and TV product, is only one of the many aggressively competing for our production business.

The effect of this has been to do substantial harm to all the production centers throughout this country. In Wilmington, N.C., Orlando, Fla., Seattle, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, people who have made their living in this business are selling their homes, losing their cars, taking their kids out of school. Crew and talent bases that have been built in these U.S. production centers are being undermined and depleted. Vendors who supply filmmaking equipment, catering services, vehicles, building and electrical supplies are losing their livelihood.

The playing field must be leveled. The United States must adopt a strategy to support and preserve film and television production. We need to offer U.S. producers of independent film and television product an alternative to the incentives they have dangled before them by our competitors, so they can choose to stay home and, by so doing, continue this country's long tradition of dominance in the production of film and television.

This trend can be stopped and reversed. We need not match the incentives offered by others; merely offer enough to demonstrate that our federal, state and local governments recognize the importance of film and television to this nation's economy. This is about healthy economies in cities and towns throughout this country.

True, the horse is already out of the barn, but we can still stop the barn from burning down.


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