ASSIST News Service (ANS) - PO Box 609, Lake Forest, CA 92609-0609 USA
Visit our web site at: www.assistnews.net -- E-mail: assistnews@aol.com


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Filmmakers desert Hollywood for ’sunnier’ financial climes
Moviemakers leaving ‘Tinseltown‘ for ‘Tamalewood‘

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA / ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- Long before the global economic downturn kicked in, filmmakers in Los Angeles, the self-proclaimed movie capital of the world, were upping sticks and leaving Hollywood for more cost-effective locations to shoot their movies.

Albuquerque Studios: New Mexico is attracting a new breed of cost-conscious filmmakers
(Photo via BBC website)

Peter Bowes, writing for BBC News in Albuquerque, New Mexico, says Los Angeles is "facing its biggest crisis in the history of filmmaking."

"Hollywood is being snubbed by its own creative talent," Bowes writes for an online article at www.bbc.co.uk .

"There is something of a stampede by the entertainment industry to get out of town," he says.

According to Bowes, Canada was one of the first countries to benefit from Hollywood's so-called runaway productions, but now the competition is closer to home.

"More than 40 US states are offering filmmakers tantalizing financial incentives, such as rebates and tax-free loans, to make the next blockbuster in their backyard," he states.

This year, only five major movies, defined as having a budget of $75m (£51m) or more, are being produced in Los Angeles. The figure compares with 21 films last year and 71 in 1996.

"It is a dramatic loss and we're seeing similar trends in television," says Paul Audley, President of Film LA, the body that issues filming permits in Los Angeles.

Audley says he has seen a massive decline in LA-based film productions. "It has a massive economic impact on, not only greater Los Angeles, but the whole state of California," he adds.

BBC reporter Bowes says that the loss of film production to states offering generous financial incentives to the studios has cost California billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs.

"After all, there is a huge knock-on effect when a studio decides to relocate," Bowes says, adding: "Catering companies, lumberyards that build the sets, make-up artists and freelance camera operators are all affected."

"It's very frustrating for the industry," says Audley.

"What we're finding, from some of the unions and guilds, is that their members are now leaving permanently for the states that do have the incentives and have the work that is available for them," Audley says.

One of the states benefiting from California's loss is New Mexico. With a similar climate to California -- plenty of sunny days with wall-to-wall blue skies -- it is a perfect place to make movies, Bowes reports.

He says the state enjoys many of the characteristics that attracted the pioneers to Hollywood, decades ago.

"In the old days people used to come here for westerns, if they had a cowboy movie," says Michael Dellheim, a location manager who has worked in the state for 23 year, and who highlights New Mexico's similarities to California.

"Now," says BBC reporter Bowes, "with a state-of-the art filmmaking facility, Albuquerque Studios, the state is well-equipped to make movies of any genre."

"We do it all now -- episodic television with cops chasing the bad guys down urban city streets," explains Dellheim.

Dellheim is currently scouting the state for a location that resembles a beach in the San Francisco Bay. It is for scene for Denzel's Washington's latest movie, 'The Book of Eli,' which is currently filming in New Mexico.

The movie is a post-apocalyptic thriller in which the Oscar-winner stars as a lone warrior named Eli, who battles to save the future of humanity, says Bowes.

Bowes reports that much of the movie is being filmed in a desolate desert location on the outskirts of Albuquerque -- which makes a perfect setting -- but the production company chose the venue because it made financial sense.

Bowes says that New Mexico offers production companies a 25 precent tax rebate, to make a movie in the state. In addition, producers can apply for an interest-free loan of up to $15m (£10m).

"There are places in California that might have worked creatively," explains Andrew Kosove of Alcon Entertainment, which is financing and producing the film, who adds: "Not only might the movie have cost more money but I would have lost all those incentives, and so I couldn't have made it."

It is a balancing act that every movie producer is grappling with, says Bowes, who also says that resigned to leaving California, producers are shopping around in other states to get the best deal.

Last year, the film industry in Michigan grew from $2m (£1.3m) to around $125m (£85m), thanks to a generous portfolio of incentives, Bowes states.

"I'm no different to any small businessman in any small business, and I'm going to manufacture my product where I can create the highest quality at the lowest cost," says Kosove.

"The industry's home is California, but contrary to what may be popular perception -- because of a few movie stars that live in big mansions -- it's a business with very difficult economics," says Kosove, who believes the film industry is just like any other small business.

California's loss is New Mexico's gain. The state's burgeoning film industry is enjoying a boom period, says Bowes.

"New Mexico is an odd state in that we're usually at the bottom of the rankings in terms of all kinds of horrible things -- teen pregnancy, DWI (driving while intoxicated) -- but we're number one in terms of this whole incentive thing," says Dellheim.

The use of new filmmaking technology has also hastened the exodus from Hollywood, Bowes says in his online article.

"This movie is being shot on digital media…it's much more easily transported, it's much more of a portable medium," explains David Valdez, executive producer, The Book of Eli.

Bowes says: "It all begs the question: will Hollywood ever be the same again? The filmmaking exodus has many people in Los Angeles deeply worried about runaway productions."

He reports that California has only just introduced a measure offering film-makers incentives, although the plan has been criticized for being too little too late.

California's Governor, former action star, Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration has given the green light to a 5-year, $100bn (£68bn) plan to encourage movie producers to stay in the state.

But there is a cap on productions with a budget of at least $75m (£51m), so major feature films are not eligible, says Bowes.

"Every other state gets it -- that this is an industry that brings massive economic benefit, and California is just getting it now," says Audley.

Karen Covell of Hollywood Prayer Network (Photo courtesy HPN)

"The myth that Hollywood lives here and wouldn't leave is over," Audley says.

"We have been dealing with runaway production from

California for over a decade and so this is just one more city that is benefiting from our production exodus," says Karen Covell of the Hollywood Prayer Network (www.Hollywoodprayernetwork.org  ), whose members pray for and minister to those who work in Hollywood.

"Yes, it seriously hurts California but it's not new. We need to offer better incentives for producers so that they will want to shoot in California.

Dan Wooding interviewing screen legend Jane Russell (ASSIST News photo)

"I am aware of the new production in Albuquerque -- in fact they are calling it TAMALEWOOD! We need serious changes in Hollywood, but the core of the industry will never leave California. It's the film production that we need to get back into our state."

Dan Wooding, founder of ANS, has interviewed scores of Hollywood stars including Burt Lancaster, Jane Russell, Mickey

Rooney and Pat Boone, and says he is saddened that much of today’s film making is taking place outside of 'Tinseltown.'

"I know that many in Hollywood’s Christian community will be sorry to see a portion of the movie industry move out of the area, but that won’t stop them sharing their faith with their colleagues -- wherever they are working," he said.

"I guess the bottom line for the producers is money and if they believe they can make their films for less in other parts of North America, they will do it.

"Still, I think many will remain in Hollywood as that is really where the big studios are!"


** Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent of ANS, is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station. Michael has traveled to Albania and the former Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany and the former Czechoslovakia, Israel,and Canada. He has reported for ANS from Jordan, China, Russia, Jamaica, Mexico, and Nicaragua. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- Michael Ireland Media Missionary (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International.

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.
Send this story to a friend.