The fickle and crony film industry

North Carolina State activist-supporters of the movie/TV industry may have missed the Big Picture featuring prominent political characters and bit-players in a national-international docudrama directed by crony politics and skewed economics: “Lights, Action…Cut!”

The story-line: Hollywood California, formerly the virtually exclusive enclave of the film entertainment industry, with assistance from its political cronies, hopes to buy back the scattering businesses “hard-hit” by the late, great recession, according to Erica Phillips and Erich Schwartzel, recently writing in the Wall Street Journal (wsj.com).

Hollywood seems to be making a “comeback,” but with less than spectacular projects. (“Only two movies with production budgets above $100 million filmed in Los Angeles in 2013.”) Feature-film and television productions (except “reality programs”) are 30 percent below their peaks in 2005 and 2007, respectively. Even some industry people say that the future prospects in California are “grim.”

A WSJ chart shows erratically changing motion picture and sound recording employment in Los Angeles County. It slumped and soared from about minus 8 percent to plus 8 percent in 2008. In 2009 it nosedived to minus 15 percent and, by 2010, rose slightly to about 3 percent. Some positive employment growth followed in 2010, but in 2011 and 2012 employment growth mostly dropped to below the zero line.

By 2013 and 2014 employment in L. A. County was in positive numbers, but jumped up and down between zero and nearly 10 percent. Currently, employment trends down. In my opinion, these figures indicate an unstable business. Yet, politicians, egged-on by film fanatics continue to prop up this fickle industry requiring subsidies by other taxpaying citizens.

The characters: Los Angeles, California and Wilmington, North Carolina mayors Eric Garcetti and Bill Saffo; California Governor Jerry Brown; State politicians; various activist actors; union bosses; government bureaucrats; film lobbyists; newspaper editors.

The story continues: Big Film flees California for lower taxes and higher bribes. Politicians tailgate the bumper sticker: “Film=Jobs.” Lobbyists pressure State legislators in Georgia, Louisiana and North Carolina to increase “incentives,” a.k.a. bribery, because “other States do it.” Editors pour out the ink to promote film and TV stories, celebrities, productions, employee sob-stories, localized benefits, ad nausea.

The WSJ chart also compares the California film employment situation with the national scene—grimmer. While Los Angeles County jobs have risen to positive numbers in the past two years, the U.S. monthly employment lines plummet to below zero since mid-2012. In early 2014 when Los Angeles County film employment grew about 5 percent, the U. S. jobs rate dropped about 18 percent.

The fickle film industry has been looking east and north for bailouts for more than 10 years. State legislators in Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina—and even Canadians—lure this nomadic gang to set up temporary shops; until some other place offers more public benefits. It’s difficult to understand why. In my view, statistics show an unstable business. Yet, politicians egged-on by film fanatics continue to prop it up by using taxpayer subsidized benefits.

Further, reduced taxes for this business are unfair; it shifts the burden to others. Many employees are transient. The work is neither steady, nor fixed in place. Productions are erratic and mostly low-budget projects. The quality of the entertainment is often poor and social value usually negative.

How can a business that cannot produce enough revenue to cover expenses with a profit expect to be kept in operation by government? Sadly, it’s not unique to the film industry, but business/government cronyism is still immoral.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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