Can free parking in Los Angeles help to stem the migration of TV and film production to other cities and states?
Probably not. But that most coveted of Los Angeles benefits was one of a series of recommendations adopted Wednesday by the L.A. City Council aimed at making it easier for producers to film locally and discouraging them from taking their business elsewhere.
Among the recommendations are to consider a tax credit for building owners who make their properties available for filming and a refund of sales tax paid by production companies when at least 75% of the filming is done within the city.
Those proposals, however, must wend their way through the city's bureaucracy for review before they return to the council for a final vote and implementation. It could be months before a full incentive package takes effect.
The council also agreed not to charge film crews for the use of city parking lots during after-hours shoots or on weekends and to increase the availability of power nodes downtown so that filmmakers don't have to rely on portable generators, thereby saving time and money. The city further pledged to identify the 10 locations where it is "hardest to film," such as at the Los Angeles Zoo and the Griffith Observatory, to make it easier for filmmakers to shoot in those places.
The steps come amid mounting evidence that Los Angeles is losing jobs in film and TV to cheaper locales.
California's share of U.S. feature film production dropped to 31% in 2008 from 66% in 2003, according to the California Film Commission, a state agency that coordinates film permitting in the state. That's largely because of a falloff in the Los Angeles area, where feature filming in 2008 was nearly half what it was at its peak in 1996.
TV production, long a generator of jobs in the region, is also declining. A survey by FilmL.A. Inc., which coordinates permits for location filming, found that only 57% of all TV pilots were shot in the L.A. area this year, down from 81% in 2004.
Filmmakers and TV producers are increasingly taking advantage of incentive programs offered by other locales that make it less costly to shoot movies and television shows. In all, more than 40 states now offer tax credits and rebates to filmmakers, making it much harder for Los Angeles to keep productions close to home. Los Angeles, despite being home to the six major studios and the center of the entertainment industry for nearly a century, doesn't have a comprehensive incentive program to encourage local production.
The city's wake-up call came last year when ABC moved its sitcom "Ugly Betty" from L.A. to New York to take advantage of tax credits there. In a further blow, Connecticut lured away the NBC game show "Deal or No Deal," which had been based in Culver City.
To stop the outflow, California this year adopted its first-ever film tax credits, which have helped keep some productions from leaving but are considered too narrow to compete with what other states offer.
Local sales tax credits for filmmakers could help make L.A. more competitive, advocates argue, but it's unclear whether and how much the city is willing to subsidize the local entertainment industry given severe budget and fiscal constraints.
Industry representatives welcomed the ideas but also expressed skepticism, noting that past pledges had fizzled.
"Certainly we're happy to hear that they're doing anything, but the devil is in the details," said Steve Dayan, business agent for Teamsters Local 399, which represents location managers, drivers and casting directors. "Let's see if they follow through. . . . These last couple of years have been the worst I've ever seen in this industry."
Councilman Richard Alarcon, who chaired the jobs and business development committee that crafted the recommendations, said the steps were "for real" and long overdue. "We are in competition with locations throughout the country as well as Canada, and if we do not fight to keep filming in L.A. it could have a devastating effect on our economy," he said. "Some argue that it already has."