County ready to give entertainment industry red carpet treatment


To lure more entertainment business to Riverside County, the Board of Supervisors today took a major step toward abolishing virtually all the fees film and television producers would otherwise have to pay to shoot in unincorporated areas of the county.

``Under these provisions, we will be well-positioned to bring film business here,'' county Foreign Trade Commissioner Tom Freeman told the board. ``These are sweeping changes, the best in California.''

In December, the board authorized a committee comprised of county staffers and led by Chairman John Benoit to scrutinize the county's Film Ordinance and come up with revisions intended to draw film and TV interests to the region.

The committee sought recommendations from entertainment industry representatives and proceeded to draft proposed changes that had to be vetted by the California Film Commission, Benoit said.

The end result was a revamped ordinance bursting with incentives, according to the chairman.

``This is a significant step,'' Benoit said. ``Even if we get just 10 percent of the business going out of the state, it would make such a huge impact. There is potential for making positive changes here.''

Under the revised ordinance, which was approved today on first reading and will be formally adopted at the end of the month, the county will offer the following incentives:

   -- Elimination of all permit fees for film and television productions, of any size;
   -- a 48-month suspension of transient occupancy taxes paid by members of a production crew working in the county;
   -- free use of all county facilities, including buildings and parking lots, for projects lasting 10 days or less; and
   -- waiver of a requirement for productions to have a county-issued business license.

Permits will still be required for a film or TV project to move ahead, but there will be no cost to obtain one.

The county Executive Office will handle all inquiries related to a project or designate another county agency to coordinate with crews, including processing all paperwork related to a production, according to Benoit.

Freeman said a single person will serve as a point of contact to simplify communications between the county and a production office.

The county will unveil a website in the coming weeks geared specifically to film and TV interests.

So-called ``runaway production'' has led to billions in lost revenue to California, as well as tens of thousands of lost jobs, according to FilmLA.com and other sources.

By one estimate, the number of studio-backed feature films shot in California dropped from 66 percent in 2003 to less than 40 percent in 2011.

According to Freeman, because of its hefty tax breaks for labor and other incentives, Canada remains a big draw for many projects that originate in the U.S. He used the city of Toronto as an example, noting that the $1.13 billion in location film and television spending there in 2011 represented a 25 percent increase from the year before.

Freeman said American film and TV production companies have spent an estimated $2.2 billion in Toronto over the past seven years.

In 2009, the California Film & Television Tax Credit Program went into effect. However, there's a backlog of companies applying for the 20-25 percent credits for labor. The program is limited to $100 million in credits annually.

According to Freeman, a single five-day TV episode creates 165 jobs and generates about $2 million in revenue to the community where it's shot.

Benoit and other officials hoped that councils in the county's 28 cities would use the new Film Ordinance as a model for their communities.

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