Something to think about, now that the summer movie season is here and the theaters are chock full of Hollywood blockbusters: Only 11 percent of them were filmed in Hollywood, or any part of California, for that matter.
You read in this paper last Thursday that Santa Barbara’s production costs shoo away all but the bravest of studios. But this isn’t just Santa Barbara’s problem. While states such as New Mexico offer generous tax breaks to studios that decide to shoot there, our state will have nothing to do with it. AB 777 – which would have provided a 12 percent tax break for productions filming at least 75 percent of their work in our state – failed to secure the support it needed to pass.
You expect this because the California we’re used to makes you pay more for everything. This is not the California of 1908, when the first filmmakers arrived in Los Angeles. Yes, 1908 – next year is the 100th anniversary of West Coast filmmaking.
There’s a house in Pacific Palisades for sale in the real estate listings of the January 2, 1913 issue of the Los Angeles Times. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms. Yours for a thousand bucks. “Inflation!” you cry. Cry on this: the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that, adjusted for inflation, $1000 is worth $20,757.58 today.
Why leave New York? That’s why.
And now this role has been outsourced elsewhere. Toronto doubles for New York. Romania doubles for North Carolina. Vancouver doubles for everything.
Meanwhile, the closest we come to keeping people filming here is providing free permits for shooting on state-owned property… provided, of course, that you pay up for a general liability insurance policy of (points finger to lip) one million dollars. Mwahahahaha.
The shortsighted arrogance of this is disgusting. We’re assuming that it won’t matter if the movie business slowly leaves California, because we’ll always have tourism, among other things. Would you visit Hollywood without movies? Would you visit San Jose without Silicon Valley? Exactly.
Such a thing happening is still several years down the pipeline, but don’t think Vancouver hasn’t been slowly adding to their film production resources, wooing more and more studios to relocate.
Meanwhile, sure, there are 40 million people in California, but they’re all concentrated into only four areas: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Sacramento. What about the rest?
Let’s take Siskiyou County for example. It’s the very last county you encounter along the Interstate 5 freeway, before crossing into that dangerous land of Oregon. It’s filled with volcanic plains, forests, rivers and the indomitable presence of Mount Shasta. It covers 6347 square miles – the fifth largest county in California – and the population is 44,301. There are more people in Goleta.
There are a million different movies you can make in such a diverse environment. “Brokeback Mountain”? Butte Valley. “Without a Paddle”? Klamath River. “Half Baked”? Weed. “Meet the Robinsons”? Weed.
And unlike other remote parts of the state – i.e. Lone Pine – nobody’s thought to film here yet, so you’re not distracted when watching the movie by how many of the hills you recognize from road trips. The last movie filmed in Siskiyou County, according to IMDB, was “Commune”, a documentary released in 2005. The last movie movie was “Border to Border”, an indie from 1998. At least its cast was filled with top-notch talent, like the esteemed Curtis “Booger from ‘Revenge of the Nerds'” Armstrong.
You know why Steven Seagal has a ranch in Siskiyou County? Because nobody pays attention to it except mountain climbers and rafters. I tried contacting the Siskiyou County Film Commission for comment, but their contact info doesn’t even work – I got the Mailer-DAEMON notice when I tried e-mailing them.
California may not have the cost advantage it once had, but I’ll still put our scenic areas pound-for-pound against a state like Alaska’s. Motion picture cameras haven’t even explored most of these yet. I urge the California Film Commission to start considering tax breaks, rebates, anything. In Seattle, permits are only $25 per day for movies with budgets between $500,000 and $3 million. Why not Yreka?