“I believe the Governor and his staff are very interested in the progress of this legislation — I don’t think they’ve committed one way or another nor would I expect them to them to at this point in the progress, ” new LA Film Czar Ken Ziffren said today about the proposed expansion to California’s current $100 million Film and TV Tax Credit program. With nearly 60 co-sponsors from across the state, the new legislation introduced last week looks certain to pass the Assembly but it still has to also get the approval of the state Senate and be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who has been openly weary of adding new expenditures to the state’s now stable budget.
While Ziffren stressed during a conference call this morning that he wanted to see production in California return to its heights of the mid-1990s, he would not commit to a dollar figure he thought the new legislation should seek; the pending legislation has left the funding level blank as political wrangling takes place in Sacramento. However, industry sources have cited $400 million as the target amount for which the program should aim. “Our office is not committed to any number but to make sure all the legislators understand the need for improvement and modernization of legislation,” Ziffren said. “The number will follow depending on a number of factors like the economy, the size of the surplus, and other constituents in California.” Today was Ziffren’s first significant public statements since, as I exclusively revealed February 8, the heavyweight entertainment lawyer was tapped by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti to replace Tom Sherak as the first head of the City of LA’s Entertainment Industry and Production office after Sherak died January 28.
Ziffren’s comments come just more than a week after new multi-sponsored legislation to expand the state’s program introduced in Sacramento. It also comes the same day that the Milken Institute released a study claiming that California has lost 16,137 production jobs between 2004-2012 due to other states and Canada luring features and TV away from Hollywood. Additionally, referencing a Deadline story from last month, the study notes that just two feature films with budgets more than $100 million were filmed in LA last year. The report, like the legislation jointly authored by Assemblymen Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) and Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima), proposes to allow blockbusters and network TV series to participate in the state’s program. The Milken study also wants to allow VFX production to be able to access the state program. Since the program’s introduction in 2009, features with budgets of more than $75 million and broadcast shows haven’t been eligible for the annual tax-credit lottery. While far down from its 1996 peak, film production was up 19% in 2013 from 2012 according to a year-end study by FilmLA, with TV drama production up 16% from its worst-ever result in 2012.
In today’s call, the Ziffren also addressed Wednesday’s announcement that Disney would be filming four NYC-based Marvel “Defenders” series and a miniseries for Netflix out of the Big Apple starting in 2015. “The project they were talking about would not qualify in California under today’s rules because it is programming for the Internet for Netflix,” he pointed out. At $420 million a year, New York already has the largest incentive program in the country. The state added some new undisclosed breaks and incentives valued at around another $4 million to snag the Disney/Netflix projects.
Already taking on the political elements of his new gig, Ziffren spun the NYC news to the positive for California and LA. “Even though California missed out on this production I’m thrilled Disney is building a whole new super-structure nearby its location in Burbank,” he said of the multi-billion dollar expansion of the facilities at the company’s Golden Oak ranch, north of LA. “That’s more important that a series of TV shows in NY but I clearly would have preferred to have the shows filmed in LA, but they don’t qualify under the current program,” he said.