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Film and TV flight cost California 36,000 jobs, study says

July 22, 2010 | 11:13 am

A new study confirms what any grip, camera operator or location manager will tell you: California is bleeding film jobs.

The state has lost more than 36,000 jobs and $2.4 billion in wages over the last decade as production has migrated away, according to a report by The Milken Institute, a nonprofit economic think tank co-founded by former high-flying 1980s Wall Street player Michael Milken, who turned to philanthropy after serving time for securities fraud.

Aptly titled "Film Flight," the Milken report is the most comprehensive account to date of the economic toll of so-called runaway production that has hammered L.A.'s production economy and the thousands of below-the-line workers and support companies that depend on it.

The survey runs through 2008, the last year for which federal and state labor data were available, and thus understates the extent of the job losses because it doesn't cover the recession that prompted widespread layoffs in the industry. Since 1997, California has lost 10,600 jobs in film, TV and commercial production, and more than 25,000 related jobs, the study said.

Milken attributes the job losses to the flight of movies and TV shows to other states and countries. In addition to countries such as Canada and England, more than 40 states now compete for a piece of the $57-billion U.S. production industry. California implemented its own film tax credit program in July 2009, allocating $500 million over five years.

"There's no doubt that incentives have been drawing jobs and wages away from California,'' said Kevin Klowden, director of the Milken Institute California Center and lead author of the report. California's share of North American employment in the industry has declined from 40% in 1997 to 37.4% in 2008, according to the study, which also notes that the number of movies filmed wholly or partially in California has fallen to 160 in 2008 from 272 in 2000.

To turn the tide, the report recommends that the state tax incentives be made permanent (they are set to expire in 2014) and expanded to include studio films with budgets greater than $75 million, which are not currently covered.

"While California's incentive package appears to be working, we have a lot of catch up to do just to get back the share of production we had in 1997," Klowden said.

-- Richard Verrier