California crews take battle to pols

Cutbacks in tax breaks elsewhere could help local shoots

By Peter Caranicas, Variety

The passionate debates over runaway production that once roiled California’s below-the-line community have simmered down to a grudging realization that rebates and tax incentives, even as they’re threatened by cutbacks in parts of the country, are here to stay.

Ed Gutentag

In the past a film like “Battle: Los Angeles” — which grossed $36 million this weekend and, with biting irony, was shot in Louisiana — might have set off protests and pickets. But today, even some of the most ardent proponents of stanching the outflow of production from California don’t fault the film’s producers.

“Just as we can’t blame someone for going someplace else to buy a car at a cheaper price, you can’t blame the studio for going to Louisiana,” said Ed Gutentag, a d.p. who runs the blog, plus a related page and multiple groups on Facebook.

Gutentag aims his message at California legislators, urging them to fight other states’ incentives with beefed-up breaks at home. “Now with the New Mexico and Michigan programs in trouble, they need to realize what’s going on and take advantage of it. What’s unfortunate (for crews) in other places is good for us. There’s an opportunity to bring jobs back.”

“The studios and the producers will go wherever they can save money,” said Mike Kehoe, who last year directed the short “Average Ordinary Guys,” a satire on job flight from California. Kehoe has run craft services on several big L.A. shoots and traveled to Louisiana to do the same for “Battle.” “We’ve got to wake up the politicians so we don’t lose this gem that brings the state a lot of money.”

Sony shot “Battle” in Louisiana both to take advantage of tax rebates and because overall production costs are lower there than in L.A. Even before the film was greenlit, production designer Peter Wenham scouted New Mexico and Georgia before “putting the pin on the map” in Louisiana.

He was lured by such assets as cheap and abundant real estate, the ease of shutting down a freeway for several days of filming, and the stages at the Raleigh Studios in Baton Rouge. But even with all the local advantages “there are always issues when you’re parachuted into a state clearly nothing like the one you’re trying to re-create,” he said. “Architecture was a problem. The story is based in Santa Monica. We had to scout all over Louisiana to find what would give us the biggest bang for our buck.”

“Battle” is said to have cost $75 million, which these days isn’t exorbitant for a vfx-laden pic. “There were enormous challenges,” Wenham said. At the lower end of these budgets “you have to become more creative to solve certain problems. It was very important to me that we retain the scope of this movie.”

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