By Jason KUROSU
A new bill intended to keep film industry jobs within the state of California was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown at a public ceremony Thursday morning, Sept. 18. Legislators and members of the film industry congregated outside of the TCL Chinese Theatre for the signing of AB 1839, which will increase funding up to $330 million annually for the next five years, providing further tax incentives for film productions to be shot within the state. The bill passed the Assembly in May, as well as the Senate last month in a unanimous vote.
“This bill is going to protect middle class jobs,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “You’ve heard the term ‘runaway production’ but let’s make it clear. Production and production jobs aren’t running away from California. They’re being lured away by financial incentives from other states. But that stops today.”
The Film and Television Job Creation and Retention Act, enacted in 2009, provided $100 million a year for tax incentives, though the funds were allocated via a lottery system which has been eliminated by AB 1839. The signing of AB 1839 more than triples that funding and, according to supporters of the bill, will have a significant effect on the state’s employment numbers.
Gov. Brown celebrated the collective effort at putting the bill together, which he said will bring “tens of thousands of jobs” to the state.
“California is on the move and Hollywood is a very important part of that,” said Brown. “We do it together, not just one political party, not just one group of people, but a confluence of Republicans and Democrats, politicians and movie executives, teamsters and stagehands. It’s a wonderful coming together that builds this powerful state. It’s the Golden State but it’s also the home of the silver screen.”
Assemblymembers Mike Gatto and Raul Bocanegra, who authored AB 1839, were also present at the signing. Both men spoke of personal encounters they had with workers within the film industry who had fallen on hard times, experiences that were the impetus for the bill.
“A father came up to me with tears in his eyes, relaying how he had been away from his family for the last 10 months in Georgia,” said Gatto, recalling an experience two years prior at a town hall meeting. “He was not a big star, nor was he a studio executive. He was a middle class worker.”
Gatto said that though the bill was often viewed through how it would help the film industry, “this legislation has always been about preserving good jobs for working families, which other states and other countries have been trying to steal away from us.”
The people behind the scenes had a chance to share their stories at the event, stories of having to leave the state, their homes and their families just to earn a living.
Armando “Grande” Gonzalez, a propmaker with the Affiliated Property Craftspersons Local 44, said that he has worked out-of-state innumerable times since 1997.
“I worked in Louisiana two separate times for a total of 12 months, Texas for three months, Detroit for six months, Chicago for three months, Colorado for nine months,” said Gonzalez. “I could go on and on.”
Constantly moving around the country and being out of state for long periods of time was not only frustrating professionally for Gonzalez, but also took a toll on his wife and two children.
“It strained relations with my wife, being away six to nine months at a time,” he said. “I missed so many events in my children’s’ lives – ballgames, first boyfriend, first girlfriend.
“We have to do this just to survive, keep our homes and healthcare. Runaway productions have affected my life tremendously.”
Renata Ray, also of the local 44, did not find consistent work until recently being hired to work on hit TV show “Pretty Little Liars.” Prior to that, Ray had to work out of state, while her mother remained at home, stricken with cancer.
“Prior to working for ‘Pretty Little Liars,’ I struggled to earn a living in the entertainment industry – not from a lack of experience, not from a want of skills, but from a noticeable decline in entertainment jobs in California,” said Ray. “We’re not the people who are rich and famous. We watch TV as well as make it. We’re your neighbors.”
Ray was able to make ends meet with out-of-state work, but said she suffered an emotional toll being away from her mother, who eventually lost her battle with cancer.
“Yes, I could meet my financial obligations, but I was away from home, away from the only family I had,” she said. “I was away when [my mother] went through her first round of chemotherapy. I was away when she reacted badly to the chemicals. I was away when she lost her hair. I was away when the surgeries became necessary.
“Yes, I’m grateful to work, to be able to pay my bills, but that price was high.”
Bill co-author Bocanegra recounted a letter he received from an industry employee named John Laurie, who not only wrote of his desire to see film jobs brought back to the state, but also enclosed a check for $20.
“John sent me a check to help pay for his share. He said, ‘I want to contribute so that we have a robust, meaningful tax credit program in the state of California,” shared Bocanegra. “My message to him is that I think we’ve got this. With $330 million a year, I think we’re going to take care of it for the next five years and there’s something better that he can do with his $20.”
Bocanegra then tore the check to uproarious applause.
“Go to the movies,” he said.