Wilk: Film and Television Tax Credit working where taxes failed

By Senator Scott Wilk

Anthony Hopkins dons a three piece blue suit with a shiny gold pocket-watch chain dangling from his right pocket. He walks out across the barren hills of Santa Clarita, leaning heavily on his cane. It’s the final scene of an episode of HBO’s Emmy nominated series, Westworld. And it almost didn’t happen. At least, not here.

The scene unfolded at local Santa Clarita Valley movie ranch, Rancho Deluxe, where for over thirty years moviemakers have come to shoot the rolling hills and wooded meadows for their dramatic motion picture scenery.

Last month, I honored Rancho Deluxe, operated by Steve Arklin Jr. and his family, as my Small Business of the Month for January. Not only for their presence as an economic powerhouse and their ability to bring world class productions like Westworld to our area. But more than that they, and businesses like theirs, show that the impacts of the film industry seep in to all aspects of our community as they give back to local education, health and recreational causes that help all of us.

But until recently, shooting like this was becoming increasingly scarce in our valley and for a while it looked as if California’s place atop the movie-making world was doomed to become but a distant memory like so many classic films of our childhoods.

During the recession movie makers began, wisely, to look for ways to cut costs. They quickly found that one of their top expenses was the taxes imposed by state lawmakers in Sacramento. Equally suitable if less convenient locations to shoot offered them boatloads of savings in taxes alone.

So they began to leave. One by one shooting locations began to shift from places like Santa Monica and Santa Clarita to more tax friendly ones like New Orleans and Atlanta.   

I’ve lived in Santa Clarita for over 25 years and I’ve seen firsthand the impact this industry brings to our community. And just as booming film business leads to prosperity, a dwindling and increasingly outsourced one lead to despair.

I was approached many times by families asking me to help. Asking to do anything so their camera operator husband didn’t have to go to North Carolina for the next three months for work, so their mother didn’t have to leave them behind for Toronto for a month of grip work. The examples were numerous, and moving. Our tax burden was literally tearing families apart.  

Action had to be taken. In 2014, I was able to negotiate a plan to bring filming back to Santa Clarita. To incentivize shooting in California, the rightful home of the film industry. A plan to bring families back together and eliminate cross-country commutes. The product of those actions, the California Film and Television Tax Credit, has done exactly that.

Today, California’s film industry is booming. The tax credit has seen an increase in local production each and every year since its inception. Even some shows that once shot in the 30 mile zone but left have now returned.

Santa Clarita alone has seen 500 film permits issued each of the last three years bringing thousands of jobs and over $30 million in local economic impact to our valley annually; economic impact that was dwindling prior to the tax break.

It’s time that our elected representatives take a close look at what we’ve done with the Film and Television Tax Credit, what it’s done for the industry, and what that industry, revitalized, has done for our community. Its time they take a close look at the successes we’ve had and seek ways to enhance and continue them.

The California Film and Television Tax Credit is set to expire on New Year’s Day 2020. We Cannot allow this vital economic driver to be pushed out of our state once more. That’s why, this year, I’m coauthoring a bill to extend the tax credit in to the future so that our Valley’s prosperity may do the same.

[Also published at the SCV Beacon]