Well, they've done it. They've actually managed to drive the industry that Los Angeles and Hollywood is actually known for ( Hollywood!) out of the state. By "they", I mean the bureaucratic half-wits who we (well, not me) elected to run this city and state. Who would have ever imagined a time when more movies would actually be shot in Louisiana and Georgia than Hollywood? Now before the letters saying, "Oh, another LA guy is upset that they're shooting movies somewhere else," start coming in, let me clarify. It's not that they're doing it, I work all over the country anyway. It's the way they're doing it, and the effect it's having on my Grip and Electric brothers and sisters.
I worked in Atlanta and all through the South in the late eighties and early nineties. At that time, it was common for any given city in the country to be the "Flavor of the Month" for the film industry and this was Atlanta's time. I was there working during a boom in production for the city and with the relatively small pool of grips in town, the back to back procession of features, tv movies, and series ensured my perpetual employment. A boom would last for anywhere from two to four years and then the studios would decide they liked Dallas or New Orleans better and move on, leaving a smattering of occasional features or tv movies to keep us employed until the next boom came around. It was cyclical, we all knew that, and it had nothing to do with tax incentives, which were unheard of for the film business back then. Cities in those days were picked mainly for their locations, ease of shooting, and availability of qualified crew members. Los Angeles was a far away place that we both loved and hated for her fickle attentions, but we all knew we were dependent upon it because that's where the business was. It was the home planet that sent representatives in the form of Key Grips, Dolly Grips, and even Hammers with the shows that came in, whom we resented, learned from, and eventually became friends with (I know, I shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition but it would be twice as long otherwise). We were a small community, but proud of our technical abilities and work ethic. Then the door to Pandora's box was opened and nothing has ever been the same since. Studios discovered Vancouver and tax incentives and suddenly a job at Home Depot wasn't that farfetched. Work in Atlanta dried up. We straggled along with enough commercial work and features at home and in nearby states to make a living, but the salad days were gone. In the back of our minds, though, we always knew that there was LA. They would never stop making movies there. I was lucky at the time to be working (I still am) with a Key Grip who had become well sought after by some very big DPs and directors. He had his Local 80 card and worked frequently in LA. Eventually, I realized that I could no longer make the living I wanted in just Georgia and out of necessity, also acquired my card. I still worked in Georgia when the calls infrequently came, but now I could always find a job in LA when I needed one.
Then came Shreveport. A lot of the people I knew in Georgia had moved there for work, which was plentiful.
Then came Boston. Then Connecticut, and the ever present New Mexico. Then Georgia, again.
Only this time, it's different. It's not a decision based on locations or crew depth or proximity to an airport. It's a race to the bottom based purely on which state is giving away the most money at any given time. And there's no way to stop it. Let me clarify something right now. I'm happy for the workers in these states. I'm glad that Georgia is once again the darling of producers if only for the sake of the techs who live there. I'm glad they're working. As long as they realize that it could dry up tomorrow as soon as another state gives a better deal. It's my home state. I still have a residence there and would love to work there again. And I'm sure if I had stayed there and never come to LA that I wouldn't give a rat's ass what was going on out here. But something's wrong. What's going on is just crazy. I'm watching second generation Key Grips who have worked on the same lots as their parents lose their houses. Studio lots that normally would be jammed with trucks, and honeywagons, and stakebeds are ghost towns. I was on the Warner Brother's lot two weeks ago and there was one other show besides ours there. Businesses that have supplied the studios with condors and catering and dry cleaning for thirty years are closing their doors. And it's not like the shows are permanently relocating to a cheaper city to stay. The bosses are still here. They drive their Mercedes and Porsches through the studio gates every morning, while Grips and Juicers chase shows all over the country, living in Extended Stays and working as locals just to send money home to pay their mortgages. And there's the problem. No one is safe anymore. If you're in an incentive city that suddenly gets hot, droves of shows come in from out of nowhere. The bench of locals is suddenly thinned and techs from everywhere start coming in. Rental houses from out of town open up shop and begin competing with, and in many cases driving down rental rates for local rental houses. Local politicians crow about how Boise, Idaho or Cleveland, Ohio is the new Hollywood and start planning studio construction. Then, suddenly Wheeling, West Virginia offers a higher tax rebate and it's a stampede to the border leaving a crowd of dazed locals, empty warehouses, and starstruck citizens behind. Now, a new population of local techs suddenly have more work than they could ever dream of and the one's in the town left behind either move or sit at home waiting for the phone to ring. There's nowhere to put down roots anymore because places aren't chosen because of location. Time was, if you needed Savannah you went to Savannah. Now you go wherever you can get 40% and throw some spanish moss around. True, Los Angeles has stood in for everywhere for years. And if you had to or wanted to, you could move there and work every day and go home every night. Or if you lived in New Orleans, you knew that enough shows would need a New Orleans look that you would get enough work to do well and you could go home every night. Same with Atlanta or anywhere else that has a significant production community. The balance is completely off though, and there's nowhere safe to establish a home base. What's hot today could be dead in two years so you may as well keep the van packed and be ready to go at any time. For the first ten years of my career I worked mainly in Georgia with the occasional location in Mississippi or Alabama. Then, incentives killed Georgia, so I worked mainly in Los Angeles and Georgia for the next five or six years. In the last two years I've been to Shreveport, Boston twice, New York twice, and Connecticut. I've turned down jobs in Detroit and Iowa.
The thing is, I don't blame the studios. They're doing what they do and have always done. This business is about money, pure and simple. Anyone who thinks it's about art hasn't seen Transformers.
I blame the lawmakers. They started this. Now California has to join the same grim war of giveaways just to compete in the industry it's known for and in which it still originates. And they refuse. Businesses are leaving California in droves because of endless red tape, restrictions, and ever rising taxes. So now I'm torn. On the one hand I'm pissed at the cretins who have turned this state into a punchline for not moving to protect a homegrown industry, and on the other, I'm pissed that states are being lured into this trap by studios whispering in their ears and by visions of their legislators getting their pictures made with Kevin Costner. Some of these places are building studios. And as soon as Ohio gives a better deal, they'll sit neglected, millions wasted on empty promises. Does this make me a hypocrite? Probably a little. But piling more incentives upon the heap is the only way Hollywood can hope to stay busy now. Self preservation tends to kick in a little when you've moved twice and finally started establishing yourself in the one place that there should always be a movie shooting.
So where does it end? I really don't know. I want to say what I've always said: it's cyclical and we've just entered a perfect storm of bad economy and union actions. But I just don't know.