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California Lagged Behind Georgia, U.K., Canada in 2016 Top Feature Film Production

Variety logo Variety 5/23/2017 Dave McNary
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California was the shooting location for 12 of the top 100 box office performers last year, trailing Georgia, the U.K., and Canada, a report by FilmL.A. showed Tuesday.

Georgia was the top-ranked location with 17, followed by the U.K. with 16, and Canada with 13. Films shot in California that were released last year included breakout hit “La La Land” and “Sully,” along with three films — horror-thrillers “Ouija: Origin of Evil” and “The Conjuring 2” and James Franco-Bryan Cranston comedy “Why Him?” — that received tax credits under the state’s expanded tax incentive program.

Additionally, five animated films — “Zootopia,” “Moana,” “Trolls,” “Finding Dory,” and “Kung Fu Panda 3” — were shot in California.

The state ramped up its tax credit program in 2015 by expanding its annual allocation of credits from $100 million to $330 million and establishing a selection system that gave priority to the jobs created by the films. The California tax credit can go as high as 25% of production costs — which is still short of the incentives elsewhere.

The report noted that the state’s incentive program still contained benefits for the industry.

“While the impact of the expanded California incentive may not register in this report (which is limited to films in the top 100 at the box office), the incentive’s impact was felt in California in 2016,” it said. “On-location feature film production in Greater Los Angeles registered 4,865 Shoot Days (SDs) in 2016, an increase of 12 percent over the prior year and the best showing for the category in seven years. Since 2010, which was the first year California’s original film incentive took effect, on-location feature film production in the Los Angeles region increased 33 percent.”

The expanded incentive program also allows, for the first time, films with budgets of more than $75 million to qualify, such as Disney’s recently completed “Wrinkle in Time,” directed by Ava DuVernay.

“Generally speaking, California remains at a disadvantage in attracting the most expensive feature film projects,” the report said. “Most of the movies that rank in the top 25 at the domestic box office (a quarter of the surveyed films) have budgets over $150 million; just six of the top 25 films in 2016 had budgets below $100 million. According to the California Film Commission, the California Film & Television Tax Credit 2.0 Program is optimized for use by productions with budgets in the $40 million to $100 million range.”

The report also noted that “La La Land,” which had a $30 million budget, created a total of 616 credited positions. The categories with the most credited positions on the film were for cast (which included dozens of dancers), set operations, and music.

By contrast, Disney-Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War,” which had a $250 million budget, there were 2,525 credited positions — with half of the credited positions of the film in VFX.

“One of the key characteristics of movies produced in recent years with large budgets, typically over $175 million, is that half or more of the credited positions are for jobs in VFX,” the report said. “More people were employed in VFX jobs on ‘Captain America: Civil War’ than on the entirety of ‘La La Land’ across all departments.”

The report concluded on an upbeat note: “While California finished fourth in overall project count in this year’s study, the Golden State is still the world’s top film & television production center. With over $30 billion in direct spending annually, the volume of film & television production activity in California is more than New York, Georgia, Louisiana, the UK and Canada combined.”

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