High stakes and high drama in Hollywood | WBEZ
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High stakes and high drama in Hollywood

Our story begins in Los Angeles. It's the early 2000s.  Film crews dot the streets. Studios compete over locations, props, make-up artists, and caterers. Movie and television is pumping millions upon millions of dollars into the Southern California economy.

Then the envy sets in. Other  states and countries decide they want a piece of Hollywood's action for themselves. They create tax incentives to lure businesses away. The LA film industry starts to falter.

If this were your typical, formulaic Hollywood script, we'd be headed straight for what's known in the screenwriting trade as  "All is lost." 

It comes about two-thirds of the way through the story.  For Hollywood that "all is lost" moment was somewhere around 2013. When the industry says it was staring, no, make that falling into the abyss.

"It was a crisis problem," said Paul Audley, head of the non-profit FilmL.A., which promotes  film and television production in Southern California.

He says production had packed up and moved to Georgia, Louisiana and Canada, among other places.  Families were pulled apart as crews followed jobs.

Prop houses closed up shop. 

During the 2013-2014 development season, only about 40 percent of TV pilots were shot in Southern California, down from 80 percent a decade before. The region lost tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars.

Pretty bleak. 

"It took way too long for the state of California to get into this fight and keep the high quality jobs in the state of California," said Audley.

But, California did start fighting back. It passed a lucrative tax package of its own. The state tripled its tax credit-from $100 million  a year to $330 million.

The new package, which became available this summer, offers subsidies to big budget films. It gives millions of dollars to relocating TV shows.

And, said Audley, it's helping "return some of that work to where it belongs."

Work like craft services, aka the folks who feed the crews and actors and everyone else on the set.

For Chef Robért of Chef Robért Motion Picture/TV Catering, there is no better sign of the Hollywood's renewed strength than his gleaming new $325,000 catering truck. Or as he calls it:  "A food truck on steroids." His company, booked solid in LA,  has been dishing  up tacos and pizza for the cast and crew of "Westworld", "CHiPS", "Grace and Frankie", and "The Last Ship".

And Chef Robert just ordered a million dollars of new equipment. He has also hired 15 new people.

Things are going well for Gary Onyshko too. He runs Real to Reel Locations, a location agency, which is kind of like a talent agency only for places--like buildings and parks and shopping malls.

"Sometimes we have five shows filing at the same time at our properties," said Onyshko.  One of those properties is a new location for the HBO show VEEP. It moved from Maryland after California promised a more than $6 million tax credit.

"American Horror Story" and "Secrets and Lies" have also come home to Hollywood.

"The shows that are coming back are the high value shows, that bring a lot of jobs and lot of revenue with them," said Onyshko. 

Big-budget movie production is also expected to rise as the new tax credit kicks in. And the LA  film industry is being helped along by the overall boom in stuff to watch these days. And that fact that other states have dialed back their incentives.

It's a change of fortune, you can see all over Los Angeles. There are sunshine yellow signs-with black arrows and mysterious letters or words, directing crews to base camps. Roads are clogged with bulky production trucks and star wagons. Colonies of port-o-potties spring up overnight.

The threat to Southern California's film industry is far from vanquished. 

But right now,  Hollywood is a little closer to its days of glory.

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