As the historical home of the US entertainment industry, California has always had plenty to attract producers, including a vast production infrastructure, thousands of famous locations and year-round shoot-friendly weather. But it took the introduction of an incentive programme in 2009 to begin stemming the tide of projects that were leaving to shoot in other US states. Production levels have risen steadily since then and over the past 18 months the so-called Golden State has hosted features including The Conjuring 2, ChiPs, Why Him? and God Particle and TV series such as Veep, This Is Us and the recently re-located American Crime.

The effects of competition from other states are still being felt: a FilmLA study of 2015 US theatrical releases showed that 19 — with a total budget value of $780m and a local spend of $719.7m — were shot in California, compared to 22 in 2014.

Production levels in California are likely to climb in coming years, however, thanks to the launch in 2015 of an incentive programme that triples the amount of credits available and eliminates budget caps. This replaces the old programme’s lottery with a selection procedure based on a ‘jobs ratio’ formula and establishes separate funding pots for different kinds of projects.

In its second year, the programme has $330m in credits to allocate. As of mid-September 2016, 28 features — including the new scheme’s first big-budget feature in the shape of Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time — and 11 TV projects had been approved.

The Lowdown

Financial incentives

A 25% transferable tax credit for independent features (with the credit applying only to the first $10m in qualified spend) and relocating TV series and a base 20% non-transferable tax credit for non-indie features (with the credit applying only to the first $100m in qualified spend), TV pilots, movies, and miniseries and new TV series. Projects getting the 20% credit can claim an extra 5% for shooting outside Los Angeles and for music and VFX work. The minimum budget is $1m for features, TV series and pilots, $500,000 for TV movies and mini-series.

Full details on financial incentives in California: California Film Commission

Infrastructure and crews

Los Angeles has hundreds of equipment rental houses, production and post facilities, 5 million sq ft of soundstage and studio space and a huge crew base. In Northern California, San Francisco and Silicon Valley are home to Pixar, Dolby, ILM and hundreds of other animation and film tech companies.

Size matters

From Los Angeles in the south to San Francisco in the north is about 90 minutes by air or a seven-hour drive. Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport are the major hubs, but there are about a dozen large commercial airports in the state.

Rob Cowan, producer, The Conjuring 2

“The movie takes place almost entirely in London, and we looked to see if we could make it work here in the [US]. In conjunction with the studio we applied for the California tax credit and were able to get it, which made it work to shoot in Los Angeles.”

Would he come back?

“Yes, definitely, if we were able to take advantage of the tax incentive.”

First person to call

Amy Lemisch, director, California Film Commission

Need to know

  • DO remember that Los Angeles is a company town. Take the opportunity to play the field of talent agencies, studios and production companies and schmooze at industry hangouts such as The Ivy, The Polo Lounge and Ammo.
  •  DO study the state film commission’s ‘jobs ratio calculator’, which is used to pre-select projects for tax credits.
  •  DO book studio space early. A recent upswing in TV and video-streaming production has increased demand and available sound stages can be hard to find.
  •  DON’T forget that while California has 315 sunny days a year, the ‘June Gloom’ weather pattern can result in overcast morning skies in Los Angeles from May to as late as August.
  •  DON’T overlook locations outside the big cities; along the state’s 800-mile Pacific coastline, for example, and in natural beauty spots such as Yosemite, Death Valley and the Mojave Desert.

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