“Veep.” “You.” “Miracle Workers.” “American Horror Story.” “Lucifer.” “Good Girls.”
These TV shows have one thing in common: They originally filmed outside of California — in New York, Louisiana, Vancouver, even the Czech Republic — but were coaxed back here at least in part because of tax credits from the state.
Twenty-nine TV shows have relocated to California after being promised state funds, part of a yearslong effort to fight an exodus of productions from Hollywood.
And now, flush with cash amid a budget surplus, California is fighting even harder.
In July, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that adds $330 million to the available tax credits for film and TV productions in 2022 and 2023, on top of the $330 million that was already budgeted each year through 2025.
The next round of deadlines for applying for film tax credits is approaching at the end of the month.
“Everybody’s in the game of luring production, and so this is a highly competitive space,” said Colleen Bell, the executive director of the California Film Commission, which oversees the program. “We continue to maintain our legacy as entertainment production capital of the world. But we can’t just sit back on our laurels.”
But the increased investment raises the question: Can these credits actually stop runaway production?
Let’s start with some history.
More than 20 years ago, Canada and states like New Mexico, Louisiana and Georgia began creating tax perks to attract Hollywood productions. Film employment declined in California.
Fearing the loss of its flagship industry, California created a film tax credit in 2009 for productions that stay in state. The program was greatly expanded in 2014.
In its current form, filmmakers can recoup as much as 25 percent of their spending — up to the first $100 million — on crew salaries and other costs (star salaries are not eligible).
Since the program began, California has spent $2.5 billion to help fund 591 productions, including toward the salaries of 161,000 people who worked on set. That stimulus generated $19.4 billion in in-state funding, officials say.
But California’s foothold as the nation’s entertainment capital continues to slip.
Between 2020 and 2021, the number of scripted TV shows filmed in California dropped by 39 percent, more than any other popular filming location, according to a report from FilmLA. During the same time period, which was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, the number of productions in Georgia remained flat while increasing in Utah and Texas.
Many states offer bigger financial incentives than California, making it hard for the state to compete. And critics of the tax incentives point out that they don’t permanently bring production back, but can start a bidding war between states.
Plus, perhaps surprisingly, money isn’t everything. In an early analysis of California’s film tax credit, the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office found that one-third of the projects that received the subsidies probably would have been made in California regardless.
“While the credit probably caused some film and television projects to be made here, many other similar projects also were made here without receiving any financial incentive,” a 2019 report reads.
In the most recent fiscal year, 18 percent of productions that were denied the film tax credit went ahead with production in California anyway, according to state data.
Still, a local tax incentive is widely viewed as a way to level the playing field. The latest boost to California’s program includes funding to create more soundstages and to incentivize additional TV shows to relocate.
As Newsom told Variety after the signing of the expanded credits, keeping Hollywood production in California is also a point of pride: “This is the world we created now, and in many ways it’s competing against us.”
Where we’re traveling
Today’s travel tip comes from Jim Rutledge, a reader who lives in Oakland:
“Trinidad, Calif., is like heaven on earth. Quaint little fishing village with stunning Pacific Coast views. Hiking in the Redwoods one day and beachcombing the next.
Perfect base camp to explore all that the North Coast has to offer. Excellent restaurants right in town. Great place to visit in the winter when there is less coastal fog and no snow.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
What’s the best part of winter in California? Email us at [email protected] with your traditions, recommendations and opinions.
And before you go, some good news
You could spend an afternoon reading the strange and fun stories of how dozens of Bay Area cities got their names, as compiled by SFGate.
Here’s a weird one: John Cameron was a Scottish sailor who arrived in the Monterey area on a British trading ship in 1814.
At some point, Cameron changed his last name to Gilroy, his mother’s maiden name.
One of few English speakers in the region, Gilroy lived among the Mexican settlers and Native Americans and married a ranchero’s daughter.
Toward the end of his life in the 1860s, a settlement began to evolve around his land — a town eventually named Gilroy.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: What mosquitoes and vampires do (4 letters).
Jonah Candelario, Steven Moity and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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