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Hungry for tax credits, film companies gobble up two years of state funding

January 26, 2010 |  8:00 am
51848220 The state of California's much ballyhooed film incentive program has run out of cash -- at least for the next six months.

To keep film and TV shows from fleeing California's borders, the state Legislature enacted the film incentive program last year, allotting $500 million in tax credits through 2014.

But as of last Friday, the California Film Commission had used up the first two years of funding, allocating $200 million to more than 60 projects. Applications for the next round of funding won't be available until the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Until, then any applicants will be placed on a waiting list.

"I'm out of money,'' said Amy Lemisch, director of the California Film Commission, which administers the film tax credit program. "We will lose projects between now and June."

That California ran through its first two years of funding just seven months after the program debuted is not surprising, given the relatively small pool of available money. After all, the $100-million annual allotment is not much larger than the average budget of a studio film.

And there was no shortage of demand for the credits, which total between 20% to 25% of qualified expenditures. The approved projects include indie films (with budgets between $1 million to $10 million) studio features such as DreamWorks' "Dinner for Schmucks," which has been filming in L.A.; and a smattering of basic cable TV shows, including the USA series "Lawman,'' which is filming in Santa Clarita.

The incentive excludes network TV series and pay cable shows, unless they are returning from elsewhere. So far, only one TV program has returned, the Comedy Central show "Important Things with Demetri Martin," which received approval for a $1.3-million credit after relocating from New York.

Nonetheless, Lemisch said she was pleased with the mix of projects and filmmakers' interest in the state program.

"I don't think we expected $100 million to go very far,'' she said.

-- Richard Verrier