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Wednesday, 15 February 2012 11:14

Pacific Coast Region

Written by  Nathan Hoturoa Gray
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The scenic diversity of the Pacific Coast Region calls to even the most knowledgeable filmmakers. Featuring some of the country’s most attractive coastlines, mountain ranges, deserts and rivers, this heart and soul of cinema has produced a plethora of classics throughout time.

Whether it’s the Redwoods of Northern California, sublime beauty of Crater Lake in Oregon, crystal-clear beaches of Hawaii, or majestic beauty of Mount Rainier in Washington, there’s plenty here to woo international audiences. The Pacific Region’s long history of production has attracted all the major studios while amassing huge numbers of talented industry professionals and state-of-the-art facilities. And the region’s ongoing efforts to ramp up its already enticing tax incentives and marketing strategies will ensure that the Western arm of America continues to attract a healthy slice of the global production market.
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CALIFORNIA
 
Since her appointment by Governor Schwarzenegger back in 2004, California Film Commission Director Amy Lemisch has worked hard to get an incentive package up and running to help stem the tide of runaway productions heading out of state. Enacted in 2009, the California Film & Television Production Tax Credit Program offers feature films (with a budget range of $1 million to $75 million) and new basic-cable TV series a 20-percent tax credit. Additionally, the state offers a 25-percent tax credit to TV series (that have filmed all prior seasons outside of California) or an independent film (with a budget range of $1 million to $10 million in qualified expenditures).

Currently serving under Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., California now has an overwhelming demand for its tax incentive package with a waiting list of over 100 films. And while its limited $500 million budget doesn’t cater to big-budget productions, the Los Angeles region has still managed to magnetize a significant proportion of films as well as reality TV shows, one-hour series, low-to-medium-budget independent films and commercials. (The tax break doesn’t work for commercials, half-hour shows or reality TV series.) According to FilmL.A., the not-for-profit community-benefit organization that coordinates permits for Los Angeles shoots, filming in L.A. County increased by 15.4 percent in the third quarter of 2011 when compared with figures issued at the same time in 2010; and TV production in Los Angeles increased by almost 6 percent driven by a rise in reality TV shows (up 30.4 percent), sitcoms (up 12.6 percent) and pilots (up 88.5 percent).

FilmL.A. President Paul Audley reports that Los Angeles feature-film production increased by almost 50 percent for the quarter, with eight feature projects qualifying to receive state credits from the California Film & Television Tax Credit Program. These projects have been solid job creators by generating 12.5 percent of overall feature-film production. State-qualified feature films that were shot locally include Gangster Squad (starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Sean Penn), Argo (directed by Ben Affleck), This Is Forty (directed by Judd Apatow), Breaking the Girl, My Mother’s Curse, Think Like a Man, We Have Your Husband and He Loves Me. Other major projects driving up feature-film activity in L.A. include Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, Savages (directed by Oliver Stone) and End of Watch (starring Jake Gyllenhaal).

These figures also mirror the increase in San Francisco’s filmmaking activity, which rose by 26 percent throughout 2010–11, according to Susannah Robbins, executive director of the San Francisco Film Commission. Much of the increase is due to the Scene in San Francisco Rebate Program that rebates up to $600,000 per TV episode or movie project shot in the city. This has attracted many productions, including Milk, La Mission, Contagion, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the television show “Trauma.”

“I knew that the city would be photogenic, but the real surprise was how efficient and cost effective it was to shoot there,” says “Trauma” Producer Stephen Sassen, who’s full of praise about shooting in San Francisco. “We had a first-class crew, 95 percent of which was local, the cooperation of the Mayor’s Office and all city departments, including the police and fire departments, and a warm reception from local residents and business owners. I look forward to my next opportunity in San Francisco.” The Scene in San Francisco Rebate Program has also just been expanded to include reality TV and documentaries, and there are refunds to permit fees available for productions budgeted at less than $3 million, if 55 percent is shot in the city.

OREGON

Vince Porter, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Film & Television in Portland, states that 2011 was a record year for Oregon. “We’ve nearly doubled the total amount of film, television and television commercial production in our state,” says Porter. Much of this success can be attributed to the state’s two film-incentive programs, including the Oregon Production Investment Fund that offers a 20-percent cash back on all in-state expenditures for goods and services, in addition to a labor rebate of 16.2 percent on all cast and crew expenditures. The labor rebate is made of a 10-percent rebate that requires a minimum in-state expenditure of $750,000 and 6.2-percent rebate that requires a minimum of $1 million in-state spend under the Greenlight Oregon Labor Rebate program. However, the Film Office is currently not accepting OPIF applications until further notice.
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In addition to these generous subsidies, Oregon’s lack of any sales tax on goods and services can also immediately save productions between 7 to 8 percent and there are over 200 fee-free state parks available for filming. “We’ve seen an increase in the depth of crew, resources and facilities, thanks to all the work coming in,” reports Porter. Recent productions shot in Oregon include NBC’s “Grimm,” TNT’s “Leverage,” IFC’s “Portlandia” and the upcoming feature film Gone (starring Amanda Seyfried).

Electric Entertainment Producer Rachel Olschan highly compliments the state. “We brought our television series ‘Leverage’ to Oregon during the show’s second season, and we have been shooting there ever since,” says Olschan. “While the tax incentive was our initial reason for moving the show up north, just as important to our decision was our ability to access the pool of exceptionally talented crew and local actors that live in the community. We feel at home and welcome in our new production environment and receive tremendous support from both local and state governments as well as the fire and police departments and the local business owners. It has truly been a pleasure shooting in this state and we look forward to continuing to do so in the future.”
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HAWAII
 
With its glorious white beaches, volcanic plateaus and lush mountain terrain, Hawaii is a scenic mecca offering some of the most diverse locations in the world. Go no further if you harbor intentions of capturing exquisite jungle shots or aqua-blue oceanography. With Hawaii's enhanced equipment, skilled crew base and overall ability to handle big-budget projects, the islands are seeing an influx of production opportunities outside of their usual nature documentaries, travel programming and Sports Illustrated shoots.

Hawaii’s tax-incentive program is extremely competitive. The state offers a 15- to 20-percent motion picture, digital media and film production income-tax credit, which is a refundable tax credit on a production company’s expenditures in Hawaii. Qualified production costs on Oahu receive 15-percent credit, while those on neighboring islands (Big Island, Kauai, Lanai, Maui and Molokai) receive 20 percent. A very impressive list of Hollywood films have been shot in Hawaii, including the hits Avatar, Tropic Thunder, Hereafter and blockbuster franchises like The Pirates of the Caribbean, Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones films. Recent features include Alexander Payne’s The Descendants (starring George Clooney), The Tempest, Soul Surfer, Predators and Just Go with It. “2011 estimated production expenditures are over $183 million,” states Georja Skinner, chief officer of the Creative Industries Division at the State of Hawaii Film Office. “This includes the CBS hit series ‘Hawaii Five-0,’ ABC’s ‘Off the Map’ and the 2012 series ‘The River.’”

WASHINGTON

Washington is blessed with some of America’s most-scintillating landscapes, such as the Cascades’ towering mountain peaks bisecting dense native forest and arid desert. The state also teems with spectacular national parks, wildlife refuges, sprawling valleys and rugged coastlines.

In addition to its scenic beauty, this corner of the Pacific Northwest has always attracted artists, creative thinkers and entrepreneurs. For the film and TV industry, this translates into a surplus of talented cast and crew. Within the major production centers of Seattle and Spokane, Washington can provide cutting-edge production resources that allow a film to be completed from start to finish. The Spokane Regional Film Office acts as an efficient one-stop shop for productions looking to film in the region while the city boasts over 250 days of sunshine a year.
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Since 2007, Washington has offered a rebate of up to 30 percent on total in-state qualified commercial, TV and feature film expenditures, and it has seen a total of 71 projects generating $69 million to the state’s economy, with $8.5 million injected in 2011 alone. Key to attracting high-paying film jobs and fostering the indigenous film industry, Washington’s Motion Picture Competitiveness Program (MPCP) is the only incentive in the country that requires health and retirement benefits to cast and crew. Washington Filmworks administers the program and ensures that each incentivized production receives their cash back within 30 days of wrapping, which helps independent films in particular with the financing of their postproduction. According to Paul Nevius, communications coordinator of Washington Filmworks, a legislative bill to renew the funding mechanism for the MPCP was introduced in 2011 (having passed through the Senate but yet to be heard before the full House), allowing the incentive program to sunset. “Strong efforts are being taken to restore the incentive to ensure the continued viability of the motion picture industry in Washington state,” Nevius reports.

Australian Director Richard Gray (Mine Games) and Producer Rick Rosenthal (Mean Creek) both acknowledge that the incentive program is vital and ultimately makes filming in Washington possible. Recent films shot in the state include Safety Not Guaranteed (starring Kristen Bell), Eden and 21 and Over. For Eden to replicate the iconic look of the American Southwest, Producers Jacob Mosler and Colin Plank filmed in Spokane, Ellensburg and Enumclaw. Mosler notes that the services and amenities for the production were top-notch even when filming away from major production centers. “We were able to house our cast and crew in everything from luxury hotels in downtown Seattle to cozy independent hotels when shooting in the remote desert,” notes Mosler. “The greater Northwest is truly a land with a vibrant economy supported by strong resources that are clearly reflected on screen, and it added great production value to our film.”

ALASKA

It’s expected that the first thing that comes to mind about Alaska is its cold climate. The second thing is its huge size. Alaska is the largest state in the U.S., situated on the northwest extremity of the North American continent with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. Well known as the Last Frontier, the state offers an array of breathtaking landscapes and ecosystems that are all ideal for filming.

Alaska also has one of the most aggressive tax-incentive programs for the film industry. For qualified production expenditures in Alaska, the state offers a transferable tax credit of up to 44 percent. This involves a base credit of 30 percent that can increase to 44 percent if the production hires Alaska residents, films in the off-season and shoots in rural locations. Eligible projects include film, documentary, commercial and video productions. The minimum spend is $100,000, and there are no salary or project caps as well as no minimum requirements for principle photography days or Alaska hires. According the Alaska Film Office, 13 feature films pre-qualified for tax credits in the state’s 2011 fiscal year.

While Alaska doesn’t yet qualify as a major production center, the state gets its fair share of production work. Recent television projects shot in Alaska include Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” and History Channel’s “Ice Road Truckers.” Feature film production is also on the rise with Universal Pictures’ whale adventure Big Miracle (starring Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski), Liongate’s serial-killer drama The Frozen Ground (starring Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and 50 Cent), and the $65-million animated project Walking with Dinosaurs 3D for Evergreen Films and 20th Century Fox. Evergreen Films has also built a postproduction facility in Anchorage that includes a 50-by-50-foot green screen.

State governments must stay vigilant about providing production incentives if they’re to compete effectively in the industry, particularly on a global scale. Over the years, the Pacific Region has offered an undeniable wealth of talented crew, cinematographic experience, technical expertise and production infrastructure — and these ongoing benefits combined with all-inclusive, competitive tax incentives will ensure that there will be a steady flow of films into each state for years to come.
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