An incentive program in Massachusetts helped the state jump in 2011 to 11th place in film-production employment among the 50 states, from 18th in 2006. Over those five years, state employment in the sector increased by 46%, compared with only 3% nationwide, according to a study conducted for the Motion Picture Association of America, or MPAA.
Louisiana, which has been dubbed the “Hollywood of the South” for productions like the coming “Fantastic Four,” counted 7,866 direct and indirect jobs in film production in 2010. Two years later, it counted 14,011. The state treasury spent $168.2 million in 2012 for the film production portion of its tax-incentive program—a cost of $12,005 per job.
But the state says every entertainment-industry job backed by the program supported 1.4 jobs elsewhere in the economy. In 2012, the state registered more than $1 billion in film-related work in sectors such as real estate, construction and transportation.
New York’s incentive program helped boost the state’s share of nationwide movie-industry jobs to nearly 21% in 2012, from 16% in 2008, according to the state. In 2013, 183 productions took advantage of the program, more than tenfold the number that took advantage in 2004, when New York began its program.
Producers frequently cite Georgia as one of their top choices for filming. In 2005, the Georgia union representing behind-the-scenes workers, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 479, had about 400 members. Today, it has more than 2,000.
Many of the movie industry’s lower-tier workers make a living jumping from set to set. Today, that means chasing jobs from state to state like an oil wildcatter.
Kristina Peterson moved to Atlanta from Los Angeles in 2011. She recently worked as an assistant director on “Last Vegas,” a CBS Films movie about a quartet of senior citizens who head to Sin City for a bachelor party. Parts of the film—even scenes set in a penthouse atop the Vegas Strip’s Aria hotel—were filmed in Atlanta.
“I’m under no illusions. I got that job because I’m local,” she says. “I saved them a big chunk of change.” The studio didn’t have to put her up in a hotel. She stayed in what she calls her “film flophouse”—a 4,000-square-foot residence she rents with three other movie-industry workers newly arrived from Louisiana and Los Angeles.
The industry’s geographical dispersal can make life difficult for workers. “I know a lot of people who will fly themselves [to Atlanta]” for temporary work, says Mike Rowe, a Los Angeles-based production coordinator who hires for films and television shoots across the country. “I had a Facebook ad out, and a lot of people were trying to fly and pay for their own hotel and their own travel just for a couple weeks of work.”
Andre Freitas, a special-effects makeup artist who works in Senoia, Ga., as a contractor on AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” says he used to field 25 to 30 resumes for work a year as the head of the Georgia-based AFX Studios Inc. special-effects firm. Now he sees that amount or more every month and has noticed longtime workers facing competition from new arrivals.
“It’s oversaturating the workforce for the people who have been here for a very long time,” he says.
The new productions have made it the busiest time in the history of the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office, a state department formed in 1973 when then-Governor Jimmy Carter wanted to capitalize on the river-rafting tourism brought to the region by the film “Deliverance.”
“It’s the reverse gold rush. It used to go out to California, and now it’s coming back,” says Jim Jacoby, chief executive of the Jacoby Group, a real-estate firm developing Atlanta Media Campus and Studios—100 acres of paint shops and sound stages across the street from a Cracker Barrel restaurant.
That kind of development has officials in Los Angeles worried. At a Hollywood Chamber of Commerce event in November, film and television executives complained that the state’s own limited tax program has put a stranglehold on local production.
Randall Baumberger, a senior production executive at Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures, said Los Angeles often isn’t even in the top five possible locations for new projects. Underscoring the message, free copies of “Discover Hollywood” magazine distributed at the event carried a cover story on movie production in Savannah, Ga.
New facilities now exist outside of California to handle large-scale productions requiring gargantuan spaces. Such productions are up for grabs in part because the California tax-credit program only applies to feature films with budgets of less than $75 million.
A coalition of California state and local officials is trying to raise that budgetary limit and increase the amount of state money allocated for tax incentives. California’s current program distributes $100 million a year across several projects, in the form of 20% to 25% tax credits. Programs must apply to the program and win a competitive lottery.
New York’s far larger tax-incentive program allots $420 million a year. In an interview, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called New York’s funding level a “decent target to look at” for California.
Years ago, Los Angeles City Hall had cameos in the “Adventures of Superman” and “Dragnet” television series. Mr. Garcetti says he is pushing to “reclaim a narrative” that was once synonymous with his city.
The mayor says a lobbying effort to garner public support for increased incentives will enlist industry workers who have had trouble finding work in Los Angeles.
Vincent Ferro, who moved from New York to North Hollywood several years ago to find work as a production assistant, would fit the bill. He says he had wanted to work in the movies since watching “Back to the Future” as a kid.
Jobs came slowly at first, he says, so he lived on savings he built up while earning six figures as a technician at the American Stock Exchange. Occasional gigs would pay $120 a day, the going rate for production assistants.
After a few solid stints on shows such as NBC’s “The Voice” and truTV’s “Top 20 Countdown: Most Shocking” videos, he says, he started to notice work drying up. The appeal of seeing celebrities on Sunset Boulevard faded when the economics came into focus.
Last week, he had 48 cents in his bank account and was relying on his girlfriend to cover expenses, he says. His calls to industry contacts have turned up nothing. All of them, he says, are now out of state.
He has started looking at apartments in New Orleans.