One day, cameras will roll again and film and TV production will resume in California, and when it does, Colleen Bell, executive director of the California Film Commission, says that the Commission stands ready to assist those who qualify for the state’s $330 million-a-year film tax credit program.
In the meantime, the Commission has told qualified projects that “the impact of the coronavirus on your productions is considered a force majeure situation and will not affect your status as an approved applicant in the tax credit program.” The program is set to start its third phase – Program 3.0 – on July 1, the start of the state’s next fiscal year. Those incentivized projects that were shut down during Program 2.0 are also eligible for force majeure consideration.
“The California Film Commission is fully functioning and providing all of our services during this coronavirus crisis,” Bell told Deadline. “I have all of my staff tele-working and we are in frequent communication to meet the needs of all the people who rely on our services. In terms of our tax credit program, the coronavirus situation qualifies for a force majeure situation for members of our tax credit program. According to the tax credit program statute, ‘force majeure’ means an event or series of events that are not under the control of the qualified tax-payer. These include, but are not limited to, natural disasters, death, disability and government sanctions. So the COVID virus qualifies under government sanction at this point. Many of the productions that are under our tax credit program have filed for the force majeure exception to the regulatory scheduling requirement, given that they are shut down at this moment.”
“The vast majority of the projects that are part of the tax credit program have requested force majeure,” she said, noting that “we’re working with those projects and we have received their force majeure requests and have granted their requests to give them more time for their projects, whether they’re in prep, production or post-production.”
“When the authorities declare a resumption of non-essential activities, we will issue a notice for tax credit productions to assess their timelines and then contact us within four weeks. If they fail to contact us within the four-week period, the Commission will assume that the production is not moving forward, and we will remove the project from the queue. But qualified expenditures will continue to qualify during the force majeure period, which is probably helpful to people, assuming a credit allocation letter has already been issued.”
No one knows today when production will resume, but Bell said that she believes that the entertainment production industry is “uniquely positioned to resume their functions in a fairly rapid and timely manner. But right now, there are guidelines that are set in place here in the state which call for stay-at-home protocols. The talented workforce that we have is ready and prepared to go back to work when it’s safe to do so, and to work with the network of…infrastructures that supports production along the way – it’s a coordinated community that will be ready to unite when it’s safe for everybody to go back to work. And they’ll start production again, and cameras will start rolling and churning out content.”
“It’s important that people do get back to work when it’s safe,” she said. “These are people who have bills to pay and children to feed, and they love their jobs and the work they do, making great films and TV for the world to see. I’m sure that people will be anxious to get back to work when it’s safe to do so, and we all hope that that will be sooner rather than later. But these are extraordinary circumstances and we are following the guidance set forth by Gov. Newsom.”
As for the governor, Bell, who is a member of the senior staff in the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, said: “We are in frequent communication…about getting Californians back to work.”
The application period for the next phase of the tax credit program — Program 3.0 — which begins on July 1, “may be adjusted depending on when production is able to re-start,” she said. “There’s no point in starting the clock on tax credit projects as long as the sanctions on non-essential business activity, including film and TV production, is in effect. Instead, we’re going to adjust the application period based on conditions, if needed. But we will be receiving applications and processing those applications.”
“We just finished our features and independent film application process and would have normally issued our credit allocation letters on Monday, April 13, but we are going to be extending that so that we can give the projects more time to get up and running before the clock starts ticking again.”
Tax credits that are unused — and no doubt, many will be because of the shutdown — will be rolled over to the next year. “Those funds will roll over,” she said, noting that tax credits are a “reservation” that are extended after the wrap of each qualified production. Program 2.0, which ends June 30, she said, “will have a roll-over of some funds.”
“People will obviously be ready to get back to work after this extraordinary set of circumstances that’s presented by this COVID crisis,” she said. “It will be important to get Californians back to work when it’s safe to do so. California is home to the world’s greatest concentration of film industry talent, as well as our important, extensive web of ancillary infrastructures and services that support it. It’s a close-knit, highly functioning, effective community of people churning out great content that’s beamed all over the world. Production may be shuttered at this moment, but the cameras will roll again here in California, and the Film Commission will continue to provide all of the important services that we provide to support film production here in the state.”
Bell will take part in a webinar on Wednesday morning to discuss film, TV and commercial production and content in California “before, during and after COVID-19.” Other panelists include Paul Audley, president of FilmLA; Susannah Robbins, executive director of the San Francisco Film Commission, and Joe Chianese, senior vice president of tax, business development and production planning at Entertainment Partners.