John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck on the set of “Argo,” one of the few recent best-picture Oscar nominees shot in California.Warner Bros./Everett Collection
Two bills that would expand incentives were introduced this month, one by Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly and one by Democrats. The latter has received industry-wide backing. It would extend and expand the program mainly by making big-budget films eligible for credits. “We would allow sort of the blockbuster films to apply for a credit,” said Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a co-sponsor of the bill with Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, both Democrats. “That’s something California has lost almost entirely.”
California’s tax credit covers 25 percent of qualified production costs, but only for movies with budgets of less than $75 million. Only one of the 41 big-budget films released in the past two years was filmed in the state.
The incentive to get the industry to stay is obvious. Between 2004 and 2012, the state lost more than 16,000 jobs in film-production employment, more than a 10 percent drop, according to a report that came out on Thursday by the Milken Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Santa Monica. During the same time, New York, California’s main rival, added more than 10,000 such jobs, the report showed. In California, the jobs pay well — more than $95,000 on average.
The report concluded: “The areas not covered under California's current incentive program, namely, big-budget movies, hourlong network dramas and visual effects, have been the fastest to flee the state.”
But the task is hard. Even films set in California are now being shot elsewhere. A film in production now, tentatively dubbed “San Andreas,” is about California’s dreaded earthquake fault, but it’s being filmed in Australia. Palm trees were shipped to Massachusetts for a film starring Cameron Diaz that is set in California. “Rock of Ages” is supposed to take place on Los Angeles’ famed Sunset Strip, but it was filmed in Florida. “Battle Los Angeles,” a science fiction war film, was shot in Louisiana.