'Walking Dead' producer Gale Anne Hurd urges expanded film credit
Gale Anne Hurd is one of Hollywood’s top filmmakers, having been a producer on such big hit action movies as “The Terminator” and “Aliens” and now AMC’s successful zombie drama series “The Walking Dead.” But Hurd hasn’t worked in California for nearly a decade, largely because of more favorable film tax credits and rebates offered in other locales. A fourth-generation Los Angeles native, Hurd would like to see that change. She’s among many high-profile film and television producers who are hoping California will extend and expand its tax credit to make it more competitive with the likes of Georgia, New York and Illinois. Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) recently introduced a bill that would extend the program, which launched in 2009 and is set to expire next year, through 2018. Hurd, co-founder of the Producers Guild of America’s annual Produced By Conference, spoke to On Location about her views on the state credit and what Sacramento could do to strengthen it.
You live in L.A. but rarely shoot here. Why not?
I film my TV series [“The Walking Dead”] out of state and have not filmed in California since I produced “The Hulk” in 2003. As much as I would like to sleep in my own bed at night and employ many of the incredibly talented California-based crew members, I have filmed instead in Georgia, Toronto and Detroit and many other [places] with much higher incentives. I have a project that’s about to shoot in New York that’s called “Very Good Girls” [a feature starring Elizabeth Olsen and Dakota Fanning].
So is California’s film tax credit not effective?
It’s fantastic that we have a program, but it can’t be viewed in a vacuum because producers and financiers look at all of the available options and the pros and the cons and you want to limit the number of cons that you have.
If you had a message to send to California lawmakers, what would it be?
The film and television industry is one of the most productive businesses in California, and employs thousands of residents as crew, cast and in executive positions. We pay taxes, we shop locally, send our children to school here and keep allied businesses [restaurants, dry cleaners, retail stores, car dealerships] in profit. The impact from lost production to other states and countries amounts to billions of dollars. With a competitive tax credit, California can reclaim its position as the entertainment capital of the world. Currently, our tax credit is not on par with those of New York, Georgia, North Carolina and New Mexico, among others.
In what way?
There are so many restrictions. The tax credit is not a transferable credit [except for independent projects with budgets under $10 million]. You can’t sell it like you can in other states like Georgia. You have to apply by June 1 and even if you are awarded the credit you have to start rolling your cameras 180 days after you're notified [of an approval]. But if your cast member isn’t available until January or February, then it doesn’t work.
As a producer, you have to go with a known commodity. That means shooting where you know you will be qualified so you can keep very precious finance, cast and budget schedules intact. To me, the tax credit should be a rolling situation like it is in most states, so that when you have your project together, you can submit it and be considered. That would be a first step.
What else would you like to see changed?
Raising the limit [on the annual tax credit allocation] from $100 million to $200 million a year is a minimum when you consider New York has $420 million a year. When you think about the number of people working in the industry, there are far more people based in California than in New York, but New York right now has more than four times the incentive.
Skeptics would say California can’t afford such an expansion. What do you say to that?
If you look at the impact that the industry has on the state in terms of taxes paid, in terms of the multiplier effect for each dollar that’s spent, I think it’s ridiculous... Part of what they’re saying is that projects will shoot here anyway, but that’s simply not true. ["The Incredible Hulk," the 2008 Marvel reboot of the big green guy's franchise that Hurd also produced, was filmed mainly in Canada.]
Why did you select Georgia as the location for shooting “The Walking Dead?”
The series is based on a comic book that is set in the South. Georgia [also] has a 30% tax credit. It was absolutely essential. For many independent financiers, their financing is incumbent upon tax credits or rebates. It’s part of their business plan. Those financing entities cannot shoot where they cannot be guaranteed a tax credit.
— Richard Verrier
Photo: Gale Anne Hurd , CEO of Valhalla Entertainment, poses for a portrait at Valhalla Entertainment in Los Angeles on March 13 with a model of a zombie from the AMC series' "The Walking Dead," for which Hurd is the executive producer. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times