Film tax credit bill could spell big bucks for Culver City

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After losing more than a billion dollars in recent years to lost production jobs in the film and television industry, a deal struck by Gov. Jerry Brown and members of the state Legislature could bring some of those dollars back home and possibly back to Culver City.

Gov. Brown announced on Aug. 27 that he would back a bill coauthored by Assemblymen Raûl Bocanegra (D- Pacoima) and Michael Gatto (D- Los Angeles) that would continue and expand the state’s tax credits for movie and television companies to shoot in California.

Assembly Bill 1839- known as the Expanded Film and Televisions Job Creation Act- had been recently amended in the state Senate on Aug. 22 and has received support from almost all of the state’s lawmakers, including Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D- Culver City) as well as from Rep. Karen Bass (D- Culver City). The amended version of the bill changes the tax allocation from a lottery system to one that is based on economic impact.

The deal will allow the yearly film tax credit initiative to go from $100 to $330 million beginning next year and will be phased in over a five-year period.

The Culver City Council had also put on a full-court press as its members lobbied for AB1839’s passage for several months.

“This law will make key improvements in our Film and Television Tax Credit Program and put thousands of Californians to work,” Brown said.

Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells sent a letter to Brown on Aug. 20 urging him to sign AB 1839. The council adopted a resolution on Aug. 11 in support of the bill.

“The City of Culver City respectfully requests that you sign AB 1839. A vibrant, successful entertainment business sector is critical to both California and Culver City’s livelihood and economic vitality. Our community is known as the ‘Heart of Screenland’ and to this end, the City Council supports legislative efforts to keep film, television and commercial advertisement production in Culver City and the State of California,” Sahli Wells wrote.

“The entertainment industry is valuable to Culver City residents, especially those who work in our city’s studios. Culver City is also home to many small businesses that support the film, television and commercial production industry across the state,” the mayor continued. “For these reasons, the city of Culver City urges you to sign AB 1839 into law.”

Upon learning of Brown’s announcement of the deal with legislators, Sahli-Wells spoke with the “News.”

“I’m thrilled. The film industry is part and parcel of who we are. [Movies and television production] are deep in our roots,” Sahli-Wells said.

For various reasons, film and television companies have been fleeing California during the last decade for locations where production costs are typically lower.

According to statistics from U.S. Labor Dept.’s Bureau of Labor, California lost more than 16,000 film and television industry jobs from 2004 to 2012. Those lost jobs are estimated to have resulted in more than $1.5 billion in lost wages, according to the bureau.

Sahli-Wells can personally relate to seeing people within the film and television business impacted by studios and companies leaving the state.

“I have friends who work in the industry who are essentially itinerant workers now that some studios are closing,” she said, noting that Sony Pictures Imageworks left Culver City in June. The visual effects and animation company moved to Louisiana.

Jeannine Wisnsoky Stehlin, a former actress who is now the managing director of the New American Theater and a Culver City resident, says there is evidence that legislation like AB1839 can stimulate local and state economies.

“I read somewhere that New York passed a similar incentive in 2010, and that state’s production applications rose dramatically in the very next year. It’s no secret that the film/TV industry has been taking business elsewhere due to tax incentives in other states [including] New York, Texas, Louisiana] as well as Canada,” Wisnsoky Stehlin said. “I think that California needs to fight to keep the industry jobs in-state. I know so many people in the industry who’ve had to uproot their families or are considering making a big move to stay employed.”

There are some dissenters. The California Legislative Analyst’s office issued a report that appeared to suggest that tax credits for the movie companies could be viewed as favoring one sector of the state’s business community over others.

“We generally view industry- specific tax expenditures — such as these film tax credits — to be inappropriate public policy because they give an unequal advantage to some businesses at the expense of others and promote unhealthy competition among states,” the report states.

Wisnsoky Stehlin says the economic component in the newly announced film tax creditespecially for families who do not earn the multi-million dollar salaries of directors and actors-cannot be overlooked. Her union, Screen Actors Guild American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, was one of the mainstays in lobbying for AB1839.

“I see this as a middle class issue, as the middle class, midlevel jobs are the ones that will be saved,” Wisnsoky Stehlin asserted. “The fabulously located Culver City’s economy will be bolstered and strengthened, as the passage of the bill means thousands of jobs.

“I’m a proud member of SAGAFTRA, which has been very active in supporting the passage of AB-8139.”

The bill is expected to pass the Senate next week.

Film tax credit bill could spell big bucks for Culver City