The once-tiny IATSE film and TV production locals in Georgia, Louisiana and New Mexico have seen their memberships skyrocket in recent years as more and more productions leave LA in search of bigger and better tax incentives. They’re where most of the domestic runaway production jobs are running away to. The film and TV workers union in Georgia has seen its membership increase by an eye-popping 1,100% during the past 11 years, the IATSE production local in Louisiana has had a 900% increase in its membership since 2003, and membership of New Mexico’s film local has grown by nearly 800% since 2001.
IATSE Studio Mechanics Local 479 in Atlanta may be the fastest-growing union in the U.S (see chart). In 2003, it had only 191 members; six years later, after the state’s 2008 tax incentives took effect, the local’s membership doubled in consecutive years, doubled again two years later, then nearly doubled again two years after that. It’s now the largest IATSE local outside of Los Angeles and New York, and if it continues to grow at this rate, in a few years it will be the largest in North America.
Like all IATSE studio mechanics locals, the one in Georgia is a catch-all union covering a wide range of crafts — from gaffers and grips to costumers, prop makers, electricians, sound technicians, electricians and set painters. The Georgia local currently has 2,122 members, according to the latest financial statement it filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, which also shows that its assets and revenues have exploded in recent years because of the dues money flowing into the local from all the film and TV work being done in the state.
Anchorman 2 shot there, as did The Blind Side, American Reunion, Identity Thief, Trouble With The Curve, Need For Speed, and the ill-fated Midnight Rider, to name but a few of the films that have cashed in on the state’s generous tax incentives. TV shows filmed in Georgia include AMC’s The Walking Dead, the CW’s The Vampire Diaries and Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva. In 2002, the local only had $88,962 in total assets and $131,465 in total receipts, mostly from union dues. This year it has $5.7 million in assets and $3.6 million in receipts – an increase of 6,353% and 2742%, respectively, during the past 12 years.
Besides the tax incentives, producers who shoot in Georgia also get discounts on wages. Union films shot in LA and New York are covered by IATSE’s basic contract; films shot elsewhere are covered by IATSE’s cheaper Area Standards Agreement, which gives producers yet another incentive to flee California. If not for the union, most of those jobs – if not all of them – would be low-paying nonunion jobs, because Georgia is a right-to-work state, where unions are not allowed to require membership as a condition of employment.
A dozen years ago, IATSE Studio Mechanics Local 479 in the Big Easy was an obscure IATSE local with only 138 members. But after the Louisiana Legislature passed the Motion Picture Tax Incentive Act of 2002, the local’s membership began a rapid expansion that continues today. Thanks in large part to dues it collects from workers employed on runaway productions, the New Orleans union is now the richest IATSE local outside of Los Angeles and New York (see chart). In 2001, it only had $60,197 in total assets; today the figure is $6.5 million – a staggering 100-fold increase. And revenue is up 40-fold during the same period, from $57,701 to more than $2.4 million.
Terminator: Genesis and Fantastic Four are filming now in Louisiana, and Jurassic World will start shooting there in June. Dallas Buyers Club shot there, as did The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, and the Oscar-winning Best Picture 12 Years A Slave. Last year, 18 of the 108 films released by the major studios were shot there – three more than were shot in California, according to the LA film permit office.
New Mexico, unlike Louisiana and Georgia, is not a right-to-work state, but thanks to generous tax incentives and runaway production, the IATSE production local there is booming too. In 2001, Mew Mexico’s IATSE Studio Mechanics Local 480, which represents film and TV workers throughout the state, only had 132 members; today it has 1,028 (see chart). Its finances have also gone through the roof. In 2001, it had less than $3,000 in assets; today it has more than $1.6 million. Annual receipts, mostly from dues, are also way up. In 2001, it had less than $42,000 in total receipts; last year, that figure had mushroomed to $1.7 million. But the number of IATSE members in the state hasn’t increased at all since 2011, when the New Mexico legislature approved increased tax incentives to lure more productions there.
Not all state tax incentive schemes are creating good-paying union jobs, however. IATSE production locals in Florida, Missouri and Texas, for example, have seen little or no increase in their memberships since those states enacted incentives. Texas’ skimpy 5%-20% tax incentive plan has barely moved the jobs dial at all since it was implemented in 2005. In fact, the membership of IATSE Studio Mechanics Local 484 in Texas has declined every year since 2010. According to reports the local filed with the DOL, it now has 650 members – only six more than in 2007. Florida’s tax incentive program, meanwhile, is broke, having already used up the $269 million in tax credits that were supposed to last through 2016. Last week, legislators there declined to provide it with any more funding.
Tax incentives alone, however, are not enough to lure Hollywood producers. A state-of-the-art infrastructure to support film production, such as soundstages, special effects houses, and equipment rental facilities, also is needed. Weather and locations suitable for the scenes to be shot are also a plus. No amount of tax credits would have lured the producers of Fargo to shoot in Florida. And then there’s the “snowball effect”: Once a state becomes a popular filming destination, word gets out, and more producers jump on the bandwagon headed out of L.A.