After this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, some may quip that officials in Riverside County are seeing stars.
More astute observers would say that the county is cashing in on a golden opportunity.
On Tuesday, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve a preliminary ordinance brimming with incentives for filmmakers.
Should it be finalized by a vote next month, Ordinance No. 634.2 would effectively end all fees associated with the permitting process for film and television productions, regardless of size.
Supervisors John Benoit and Jeff Stone kick started the effort last year with the intention of attracting business and revenue from film and television productions.
The county’s Foreign Trade Commissioner Tom Freeman addressed the board on the matter: “What we propose to do with this ordinance is eliminate the film processing fee in its entirety which is a significant step to help small businesses.”
The ordinance would further suspend transient occupancy taxes levied on members of production crews working in the county, allow film crews to use county facilities (building and parking lots) for up to 10 days free of charge and waive the requirement for production studios to have a Riverside County business license.
The goal is for the ordinance to serve as a model for all 28 incorporated cities within Riverside County so that the entire region may position itself as an attractive alternative to the high costs of doing business in Los Angeles.
As a result of these costs, the film industry has been fleeing the state in droves for some time.
The California Film Commission released a report in early August, concluding that states with more favorable business conditions than California have successfully won over film studios. Their decision to relocate out of the state has resulted in a “profound erosion” of a once-vital and almost exclusively Californian industry.
According to the report, California’s share of 1-hour network television series has declined from 89% to 37% in just the last 8 years.
London has recently gained traction in attracting business overseas through an aggressive tax incentive program. It has resulted in a dramatic shift where one of the world’s most expensive cities has become relatively cheaper to film productions than the longstanding heart of entertainment, Los Angeles.
Newly-elected Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has declared a “state of emergency” over the rate at which California is bleeding production films. Big-budget features employ thousands of workers and drum up business among a number of smaller industries which amounts to billions in direct spending at the end of the day.
The loss of productions like these not only threatens the reputation of Los Angeles but the fiscal viability of the state as a whole.
This trend is not merely theoretical. Breaking Bad, arguably one of the hottest shows on television at the moment, was nearly filmed in Riverside County. In fact, the show’s creator had originally envisioned and accommodated the storyline to fit the region marked for cracked land, tumbleweeds and wind-worn sandstone. However, New Mexico’s similar climate coupled with a substantial tax rebate (25% of money spent in the state will be returned to the studio) was too good to pass up and the protagonist Walter White has resided in Albuquerque ever since.
Hollywood faces a predicament: either utilize the established infrastructure and resources and pay the high cost of doing business in Los Angeles or relocate elsewhere to take advantage of the attractive fiscal incentives.
This so-called “runaway production” problem (as they call it in the film industry) however, has created the perfect climate for officials in Riverside County to poach business from the clutches of its expensive neighbor.
And this predicament is rife with opportunity for Riverside County, according to Supervisors Benoit and Trade Commissioner Freeman.
The county has a tangible financial incentive to attract Hollywood: “When we create a one weeklong episode of a TV show here, we receive $3 million dollars in income and create 167 new (yes, temporary) jobs,” Freeman said. “It does make a significant impact.”
“Even if we were just to get just 10% of what has gone out of this state to other parts of North America and Europe, it would be such a huge impact,” stated Benoit.
Last year, Supervisor Benoit attended a conference in Toronto, Canada and learned that the Canadian city has siphoned off over $1 billion worth of business from the California film industry.
Upon his return, the Board of Supervisors launched a committee of county employees to analyze the current film ordinance and make suggestions on revisions. They spent significant efforts reaching out to representatives of the industry in order to best identify which incentives would be attractive enough to draw film studios to LA County’s Southeastern neighbor.
Given its proximity to Los Angeles, Riverside County has a history with Hollywood that dates back to the early 20th Century. Clark Gable starred in a number of films within its borders as well as Bob Hope and a number of other prominent Hollywood figures.
Riverside County officials plan to launch a website that specifically outlines the benefits it can offer the film industry within the coming weeks.