View from Lodi, CA: Outsourcing Hollywood

For native Californians like me,
the Golden State has always been synonymous with
beaches, mountains and movies.

If you didn`t have the pleasure of
growing up in Southern California in the 1950s, you`ll
have a hard time believing that back then Los Angeles
had a quaint, almost small-town ambiance.

And all Angelinos shared in the

magic of Hollywood
. Among my most
enduring memories
is going out to the old Gilmore
Field to watch the Pacific Coast League

Hollywood Stars
play baseball. A syndicate that
included Brown Derby restaurant owner Robert Cobb (as in
the salad), Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Gene Autry,
William Powell, George Raft, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert
Taylor, George Burns and the legendary Cecil B. DeMille
owned the aptly named Stars.

A casual Saturday afternoon at
Gilmore could easily have included standing next to Gary
Cooper or Bing Crosby at the hot dog stand.

California will always have the
Pacific Ocean and the

mountains
. Whether the movie industry will survive
is not so certain.

Outsourcing—or

“runaway”
in the industry lexicon—has been
eroding Hollywood jobs and wages for the last five
years. According to the Film and Television Action
Committee, nearly $10 billion will be lost in 2004 from
the US economy because of “runaway” productions
filmed in

Canada
, Australia and even Romania.

And a recent study by the
Encino-based Center for Entertainment Industry Data and
Research (http://ceidr.org/)
found the film industry has lost about 22,000 jobs per
year since Canada began offering generous tax subsidies
in 1998.

“Tax subsidies” is a generous way
to say that Hollywood producers get kickbacks from the
Canadian government when they leave the US to film up
north.

While Hollywood has been hit the
hardest, other major cities have felt the runaway sting
too. Since 1985, 57 feature films with Chicago
backdrops—including the Oscar-winning musical

Chicago
and box office success My Big Fat
Greek Wedding
have been filmed in Canada. Those 57
pictures cost Chicago`s economy

$2 billion and 17,000 jobs.

A two-hour television movie about
former

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani
, Rudy, was
filmed in Toronto in 2002. New York Rep.Anthony Weiner
noted that since Canadian tax credits began total gross
budgets for feature films in New York had dropped from
$695 million in 1999 to $167 million in 2001.

And Weiner couldn`t resist
commenting on the irony of filming Rudy in
Canada.

“Today, somewhere in
Canada, a network called USA Network is making a movie
about the mayor of the city of New York,”
Rep.
Anthony Weiner said Wednesday. “I guess they`re going
to show him watching baseball games at the SkyDome or
eating pommes frites rather than eating at Patsy`s.”

Canada is the biggest threat to the
US film industry today, according to production designer
and FTAC Executive Board member Ann Champion. But by
tomorrow, Champion speculates, the chief villains may be
Australia, Brazil or even India.

Champion, who worked steadily in
Hollywood for over 20 years and is now “financially
devastated,”
told me that Canada has been so
successful luring US filmmakers that other countries are
developing similar economic models.  “In Canada,”
said Champion, “the federal subsidies are 16% (of
total labor costs) and subsidies from the Provinces can
range up to another 30%. So we`re talking total
subsidies of up to 45%. Add in the

lower cost of Canadian labor
and you see what we are
up against.”

Continued Champion, “Now imagine if
a country like Brazil with its Third World wage scale
offered the same financial incentives.”

FTAC Chairman Brent Swift and
Champion both agree that Canada is violating the spirit
of free trade and plans to file a 301(c)

petition
to end runaway production.

The Screen Actors Guild voted to
unanimously support FTAC.

While the FTAC is waiting to raise
the money to file, the backlash against runaway
productions—along with outsourcing in general– has
suddenly intensified.

When Cold Mountain director

Anthony Minghella
and co-producer

Sydney Pollack
told Barbara Walters on the ABC`s
“20/20″ that the film was shot in Romania because he
could not find any rural areas which “had not been
touched by the twentieth and twenty-first centuries,”

the rank and file became irate.

Champion, born and raised in
Virginia, told me that the South has dozens of

ideal locations
. “What it comes down to is that
labor is much cheaper in Romania.”

Energized and fed up, Champion
wrote an article for the FTAC website titled

“What Americans Need to Know About `Cold Mountain.`”

 

Champion urged Americans not
to support Cold Mountain. Her essay was e-mailed to the
5,000 strong FTAC mailing list.  From there, it was

resent and FAXed
all over the world.

Cold Mountain was shut out
of Best Picture Oscar nomination. “We don`t know if
our e-mail campaign was instrumental in denying the

Best Picture nomination
but we like to think that it
played a part,”
said Swift.

Now the FTAC has turned its
attention to director Ron Howard`s Universal Studio and
Miramax project, Cinderella Man.

“Are you so far removed from your
country and its workers?  Have you so much money and
fame that you can turn your back on the people and the
industry that gave you the opportunity to succeed?”
asked the FTAC of Howard. 

The FTAC accuses Howard of
“participating in the destruction of the great American
film industry.”

(Phone numbers for Howard,
310-858-2000, Harvey Weinstein/Miramax, 212-941-3800 and
Jim Brubaker/Universal, 818-777-7452. My phone calls to
Howard`s office for comment on this column were not
returned.)

Both Champion and Swift made it
clear that they are not against filming movies overseas
if there is a valid artistic reason to do so. They had
no complaints that

Lord of the Rings:
the Return of the King
was made in New
Zealand or

Lost in Translation, in
Japan
.

Two well-known and respected
directors,

Clint Eastwood
and Robert Altman, are still
supporting American workers by filming only in the US.

I confess that I saw Cold
Mountain
before knowing it was filmed in Romania.
The movie was a dud: an hour too long with a
preposterous plot and poor acting.

But that is the last movie I`ll go
to without confirming that it was filmed in the U.S. If
it isn`t, I`ll

boycott
it.

I want my $10 to support American
workers. 

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the


Lodi News-Sentinel
.