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California Film Credit Increased Production, Benefit Hazy

Ricardo Diaz / Flickr

A graffiti wall film set in Los Angeles.

Ricardo Diaz / Flickr

After years of decline, the number of television shows produced in California is on the rise. Lawmakers and Hollywood attribute the increase to a tax credit for filming in-state, while critics say that tax credit could be better spent on other priorities.

From 2009 to last year, the state refunded $100 million to TV and movie productions through the tax incentive. Supporters say that’s helped recover motion picture jobs that were leaving to shoot overseas or in cheaper states, which offer their own incentives.

“For television the trend has been remarkable recovery,” says Adrian McDonald, a research analyst with the Los Angeles regional film office, an organization that also supports the credit. He says shooting for television shows in the region has increased 30 percent in the past five years.

A recent report from the state’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office agrees the credit did draw more productions, but about a third of those that benefited probably would have filmed in the state anyway.

“We have a hard time understanding the net effects,” says Brian Weatherford, the report’s author. “We do think the first film credit was positive overall. We estimate the increase to California’s net economic output by between six and $10 billion.”

But Weatherford says it’s impossible to know whether the state could have produced a larger economic benefit by spending that money elsewhere. The report cautions lawmakers against using tax incentives as an economic tool.

The state upped the film credit last year—it now gives out more than $300 million annually. In part, the expanded credit is designed to attract more feature film shooting, which continued to decline in the state, even as television shooting rose.

McDonald says over the past three quarters films have begun to rebound. Feature film shooting increased by almost 10 percent, during that time.

Ben Bradford

State Government Reporter

As the State Government Reporter, Ben covers California politics, policy and the interaction between the two. He previously reported on local and state politics, business, energy, and environment for WFAE in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Read Full Bio