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State milk ads heading abroad to save moola : Unions are sour on a New Zealand plan for 'Happy Cows' spots.

November 13, 2009|Richard Verrier

The California Milk Advisory Board may have shot itself in the hoof.

The board, which promotes the state's dairy farmers and is overseen by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, is again preparing to film commercials touting California milk from California cows -- in New Zealand.

In January, it plans to shoot part of its new series of 10 California "Happy Cows" TV commercials in Auckland, taking advantage of that country's low production costs.

It comes just after California began offering film tax incentives this summer to reverse so-called runaway production that has caused the loss of thousands of jobs in the Los Angeles area as other states and countries have siphoned off film and TV crews with lucrative financial incentives.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, November 14, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Milk commercials: An article in Friday's Section A about the California Milk Advisory Board filming its "Happy Cows" TV commercials in New Zealand said Bob Industries of Santa Monica was the producer. In fact, Karen Rohrbacher and director Chris Hooper are producing the new ads.

Under the state's first film tax credit program, which took effect in July, California is offering $100 million in credits for about 50 film and TV projects. Commercials, however, were excluded from the program.

"Obviously, the governor prefers that everyone produce their film, television and other projects in California," said Camille Anderson, spokeswoman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who strongly backed the measure.

Local union officials were cheesed off to learn that the state milk board was farming out TV work to foreign locales.

"It's totally out of line," said Ed Duffy, business agent for Teamsters Local 399, which represents location managers, studio drivers and casting directors. "If they're promoting California products, they should be shooting in California."

Milk board officials said the New Zealand shoot represented a "minor portion of production" and was a matter of simple economics. The board solicited bids from around the world, and the New Zealand site was the lowest, said Michael Freeman, the board's vice president of advertising.

"It was a no-brainer," he said. "The dairy industry is facing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. We have a fiduciary responsibility to spend their hard-earned dollars as efficiently as we can. In this particular case, we found significant cost savings by shooting a portion of this product overseas."

The board, which receives funding from dairy farmers, has been running TV ads promoting California's "Happy Cows" for nearly a decade. The latest series, which began last year, features New Zealand cows representing bovines from around the world auditioning to be the next California Happy Cow. Like "American Idol," TV viewers can then go on the board's website and vote for their favorite cow.

Although Los Angeles remains the bread-and-butter capital for commercial shoots, it faces growing competition from foreign locales, including countries such as Argentina and New Zealand that offer substantial financial incentives.

The New Zealand shoot will be filmed over three days on the same sound stage the board used for last year's TV campaign.

Freeman stressed that all post-production work will be done in California, where it will take six to eight weeks to finish each commercial.

Santa Monica-based Bob Industries is a producer, while the creative side is handled by ad agency Deutsche.

Freeman declined to reveal the budget for the commercial shoot or how much the board is saving by filming in New Zealand. He added that any scenes involving California cows will be filmed in state.

"We would never misrepresent California cows by shooting them elsewhere," he said.

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richard.verrier@latimes.com

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