LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Los Angeles famously calls itself the Entertainment Capital of the World. But the reality is, many filmmakers have long since fled to cheaper locations in London, New York, Canada and elsewhere.
Now Hollywood is battling to win back its title.
“Film audiences often think of California as the home of the film and television industry,” said a recent report by Film LA, which hands out filming permits in the West Coast city which is home to Tinseltown.
But, it added, “Today this belief is rooted more in history than in fact with respect to feature films.”
“We outsourced one of our most beloved commodities,” added Tom Nunan, who teaches at UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and Television and is the founder of Bull’s Eye Entertainment, a production company.
Over the last 15 years, film production has slumped by nearly 50 per cent in California, once the cradle of the world’s biggest film industry.
Last year, the vast western US state played host to only eight per cent of the biggest 25 film productions of the year, excluding animated movies.
The new “Star Wars” movie is being shot in London, Pierce Brosnan’s latest crime thriller “November Man” was filmed in Zagreb, while French director Luc Besson went to Taiwan to make “Lucy” with Scarlett Johansson.
The productions are huge money-spinners for the cities and countries which host them: last year the 108 biggest films generated some $7.6 billion in local spending and tens of thousands of well-paid jobs, according to Film LA.
And that goes without counting thousands of hours of TV programming: last year 21 of 23 major TV shows were made outside of California.
Canada has led the way in attracting film and programme makers, throwing down the gauntlet by offering tax credits worth some 40 per cent of a movie’s budget.
“We started to get used to the idea that if you want to get it done, you have to do it in Canada,” said Nunan.
The Canadian example was rapidly followed and imitated by some 40 US states and a dozen or so countries, even if in reality most major film shoots are shared between about 10 or so key locations or countries around the world.
Tax breaks are not enough: you also have to offer costume designers, set makers, make-up artists and all the other craftspeople trained to the high standards demanded by a Hollywood production.
The United States remains the country with the biggest major productions (70 out of 108 in a survey last year), ahead of Canada (15) and the United Kingdom (12). France hosted one.
In terms of cities, London is at the top of the global league table, currently hosting eight of the 10 biggest movies at its state-of-the-art studios like Pinewood. It is followed by Vancouver, New York and Paris.
Even within the US, California lags behind Louisiana, which played host to 18 of the 108 biggest films last year. New York and Georgia are also snapping at the Golden State’s heels.
The Big Apple notably attracted 29 major TV shows last year, against only seven a decade previously, highlighting the effectiveness of its tax breaks strategy.
In a bid to regain the initiative California tripled its tax credits this year for filmmakers, to $330 million per year compared to $100 million per year previously.
The strategy has immediately borne fruit: in the third quarter of 2014 TV production in the City of Angels surged by 31 per cent year-on-year.
“While we are still trying to reclaim our share of television production, we’re encouraged,” said the head of Film LA, Paul Audley, announcing the new figures.
“With the new tax credit taking effect next July, we see strong potential for growth in local TV work ahead,” he added.
Nunan underlined that, despite the gloomy figures, Hollywood remains at the heart of the global show business industry.
“Hollywood is still the entertainment capital of the world, because the ideas of consequence, decision makers of consequence are located here,” he said.
“Production doesn’t equal dominance in this industry. Ideas equal dominance,” he said. “At the end of the day there is still an enormous global influence generated out of Los Angeles.”
“It’s going to be the entertainment capital indefinitely,” he added.