IATSE and other entertainment unions have been lobbying lawmakers in Sacramento to extend California's film tax credit program, which is set to expire next year. But the program has struggled to compete with more generous incentives in other states. New York offers four times as much in tax credits as California and recently tripled the credit for post-production work.
New York had a record year for TV production last year and is on track to repeat in 2012. More than half a dozen new fall and midseason network dramas are expected to shoot in New York this season, including the CW's"The Carrie Diaries,"CBS'"Elementary" andABC's"666 Park Avenue."
At least seven new broadcast dramas will be shooting in Canada, includingABC's"Zero Hour," in Montreal, and "Hannibal" and"Beauty and the Beast,"both in Toronto, which also hosts the new drama "The L.A. Complex," about a group of actors trying to make it in Hollywood. Other new dramas are being filmed in North Carolina, Georgia, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Tennessee.
To be sure, creative reasons also factor in the decision-making. It made sense to shoot"Dallas"in Texas because the story is based there. But tax credits offered by Texas were also important, said Michael Robin, an executive producer on the series, who is also a producer on the new cable crime drama "Longmire," which is set in Wyoming but filmed in New Mexico, partly to take advantage of tax credits.
"The cost of producing these shows goes up every year, but the bottom line doesn't," said Robin, who is also producing the new cable drama"Major Crimes"locally. "The tax credits help close the gap."
"The reality is, as long as Sacramento continues to balk at having real incentives, we're going to continue to lose the most lucrative forms of television and film production," said Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit group that handles permits for the city and county. "We're losing tens of thousands of jobs to New York."
Even before the latest TV downturn, the local jobs climate was bleak, partly because of studio cutbacks caused by the recession but also because of the long-term effects of production flight. A report by the Milken Institute estimated that California lost more than 36,000 film industry jobs and $2.4 billion in wages between 1997 and 2008, which it attributed mainly to the effects of so-called runaway production.
Some local craftspeople are making contingency plans.
Elion Olson, an assistant director on"The Defenders"and "Criminal Minds," has worked sporadically since Christmas. When he and his wife ran out of money to buy groceries, they moved to Alabama temporarily to live with her parents.
The 41-year-old North Hollywood resident recently returned to L.A. to work part time on an ABC show. But he isn't banking on a long-term career in the business.
He recently began taking courses to become a scuba diving instructor.