Diane Haithman is a Deadline contributor.
Producer Harvey Weinstein told LA Film Czar Ken Ziffren today that he needs to do whatever it takes to increase California’s $100 million Film and TV Tax Credit Program in order to keep production in the state. The remarks were made during Weinstein’s keynote address at today’s 38th annual UCLA Entertainment Symposium.
Weinstein argued that California does not have to offer the same discounts as, say, New Orleans as long as the state can provide enough of an incentive when weighed against the added travel and production costs called for by out-of-state production. He said producers can elevate the quality of production by tapping the superior Hollywood talent pool and prefer to avoid transportation hassles that “can turn scheduling into a nightmare.”
On February 19, legislation was introduced to expand the $100 million credit program, with nearly 60 co-sponsors from across the state. However, Gov. Jerry Brown has been weary about adding new expenditures to the state’s stable budget. “Please, whatever you can do with the governor…” Weinstein pleaded to Ziffren, who offered no immediate response. Ziffren, who was named the city’s Film Czar on February 10, mentioned in a conference call February 27 that he wants to see production in the state return to the lofty levels seen during the mid-1990s. Industry sources have said the the California program should aim for a target credit level of $400 million.
During the wide-ranging discussion Saturday afternoon, Weinstein also offered an apology of sorts for the failure of his company’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler to net a Best Picture nomination (Philomena also came away empty-handed at last weekend’s Oscars). He said that because Butler opened in August (during traditional summer tentpole season) instead of in the fall “they forget you — there’s a new flavor of the month.” He added that a deliberate choice was made to use funds to address production costs instead of on an elaborate Oscar campaign. “We could go for an Academy campaign or get these guys out of a situation,” he said. “We spent the right amount of money,” he said. “We didn’t win any Oscars, but we won the Bank of America award.” The Butler finaled its global box office at $176.6 million.
Addressing what’s new with The Weinstein Company, the executive said the company is expanding its TV efforts and praised the small screen’s options for longform episodic storytelling that does not happen with the movies. He cited the company’s upcoming Marco Polo series for Netflix, due in late 2014. Weinstein Co. is spending “$8 million an hour, and it’s going to look like $20 million an hour,” he said of the planned nine hourlong episodes. Right now, Weinstein Co. has a deal with both Showtime and Netflix. The executive revealed that “in 2016 the deal “becomes all Netflix, and we’re excited about that too.”
He added that the mandate for Weinstein Co. is to produce more, acquire less. “(It used to be): ‘Those guys know how to pick a movie,” he said. The films that the company has produced “generate four or five times (the amount) of the ones we acquire. I think we do less, but we produce more.”
The event was co-presented by the UCLA School of Law and the UCLA Entertainment Symposium Advisory Committee, the panelists could not resist a lawyer joke. Weinstein said he is a huge fan of John Ford’s films and also acknowledged that today’s filmmakers sometimes turn to the classics in a pinch. In Gangs Of New York, “we were just ripping off David Lean like crazy”, Weinstein admitted. Deadpanned Ziffren: “In this room, we call it fair use.”