Saturday, October 06, 2012

California Movie Work

Last week, I had lunch with a retired rep of the Cinematographer's Guild. We talked about these kinds of things:

... For years now, many of the year’s biggest and most acclaimed movies have barely been made in Hollywood, greater Los Angeles, or California — if at all. Thanks in part to generous tax breaks in states like Louisiana and New York — not to mention countries like Canada and Australia — feature film production in the Los Angeles area dropped an estimated 41 percent from 1996 to 2007, according to production data from the non-for-profit organization FilmL.A. That steady march of film production out of California prompted the state legislature to pass a tax break plan of its own in 2009, which Gov. Jerry Brown just renewed for two more years this week. The plan offers up to $100 million in tax credits per year, but the biggest question now is, will that be enough to bring filmmaking back to its former SoCal glory? ...

My friend from Local 600 said:

There's a lot of work going out of town. New television series are leaving. A lot of big movies are someplace else. It's really pretty bad. And the attitude of the studios is a lot worse than when I hung it up. ...

I told him I notice that the companies are a lot harder assed than just a few years ago. I told him how, at TAG's May meeting, writers who are dual card holders (WGA/TAG) stood up and related how things got grimmer after the WGA's 2007-2008 strike: overscale deals went down, staffing got leaner, and work got sparser.

I said that the 2008 economic meltdown continues to be the excuse studios use for paying as close to scale as possible, for cutting schedules and expanding workloads.

But I also told him that animation has held up pretty well in the New Era of Austerity. Animation studios stay closer to minimums, but L.A. animation (for the most part) hasn't decamped en masse for locations offering state tax rebates. (There are, of course, exceptions to this trend: Sony ImageWorks has shipped a bunch of jobs to British Columbia.)

Keeping the work in town isn't due to corporate altruism, but the nature of animation work. In the live-action world, studios can cherry pick their key employees from the L.A. labor pool and pick up the rest of the crew, most with lesser skills, at the distant location. In Cartoonland, production is a wee bit more complex. If there's nobody in Macon, Georgia who can do storyboards, or run Maya software, or design characters, tax rebates won't do much good because there is nobody in Macon that can do the work.

It's one thing to push a dolly or pull cable, and quite another to draw, design, rig and animate with the level of professionalism studios require. Los Angeles has a deep and highly skilled talent pool working in animation. That's the biggest reason why the work has held steady in Southern California over the last half dozen years. Animation artists aren't cable pullers. If you don't have qualified staff, you're not going to get the job done.


ecolean man said...

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