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Film, TV workers urge probe

Entertainment industry workers urge City Council to support investigation of foreign subsidies .

By Mark R. Madler, The Leader

DOWNTOWN BURBANK -- They came carrying Oscar and Emmy statuettes and told stories of how the loss of film and television production to foreign countries has hurt an industry vital to the city's economy.

Performers, union officials and members of the Studio City-based Film and Television Action Committee crowded the council chambers Tuesday night. They urged city officials to pass a resolution backing an investigation into whether subsidies offered by Canada to encourage filming there violate free trade agreements

"It costs the council nothing to support this," said actor Kent McCord, a former star of the "Adam-12" television show.

"Thousands of people helped build this industry. They set down roots and sent their children to the schools."

Others echoed McCord.

"I wonder what people would do if someone said, 'Let's have the Super Bowl in Australia,'" said Chris Warren, whose father and grandfather were Oscar winners for special effects.

"Movie making is synonymous with America."

While the council voiced support for a resolution, a vote could not be taken because it was not an agenda item.

The matter is scheduled to be voted on March 15.

"I certainly have seen the impact in my neighborhood," Councilman Todd Campbell said.

"People have to go far away to work or be denied or limited in their work because production is going away to other parts of the state or out of the country."

But the Motion Picture Assn. of America, an organization representing the seven major studios -- including three based in Burbank: The Walt Disney Co., Warner Bros. and NBC Universal -- contends that challenging foreign subsidies may harm the ability to market American films in foreign markets. The studios generate 40% of their revenue outside the U.S., and those markets need to be kept open, said Melissa Patack, the association's vice president for California governmental affairs.

Also, the city's support of an investigation into foreign subsidies is not likely to stem runaway production, Patack said.

"What cities need to do is make their cities film-friendly," Patack said.

"They need to be receptive to companies who want to be on their streets and in their buildings. They need to make fees reasonable so they see you are open for business."

Disney and Warner Bros. alone account for 11,000 employees in the city.

All told, entertainment and media related companies are 30 % of the city's 99,000 workers, said Yvette Ulloa, the city's economic development manager.

Cost savings to studios has led to the filming of TV shows and movies in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Eastern Europe and England, where expenses are cheaper and tax credits and other financial incentives are offered by their governments.

Studies for the Screen Actors Guild and the U.S. Commerce Department estimate a loss in the billions to the U.S. economy because of runaway production.

The Film and Television Action Committee is raising money to pay for legal help to file a challenge with the U.S. trade representative that overseas subsidies that violate free trade agreements.

Whether a petition is filed this year depends on the organization's war chest, as an estimated $250,000 needs to be raised, said Tim McHugh, an action committee member and Emmy Award-winning special effects creator, whose Area 51 studio is in Burbank.

"This has moved at a glacier pace, but those of us who are committed will stick it out," McHugh said.

Congressman Adam Schiff, who has met with the committee in the past, tried to tackle runaway production throughlegislation when he was a state senator.

He was successful with a bill allowing fee waivers for film production on surplus state property, but fell short with a bill proposing loan guarantees for small and mid-size production companies, Schiff said.

"There are people in the industry below the line, not the well-paid top stars, who would tell me they used to work 50 weeks a year, then it was 45 weeks and are now lucky to work 35 weeks," Schiff said.

"Their jobs are going up to Canada or overseas and they are finding it hard to make ends meet."


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