Whither Hollywood? Various size frogs in ponds

4 07 2008

Being a frog in a pondHaving grown up in the film industry in New York, I always had a low opinion of “those Hollywood types.” I felt more like Woody Allen than Woody Allen did, I suppose.

At a certain point in my career, however, I found that I was traveling out to LA a lot to work here. I’d be on a film that shot and edited in New York but was finishing in Hollywood. There was one film (HAIR) that shot both in New York and in LA area, returned to NY to edit, but did all of its sound and completion work our in LA. There was even one film (FAME) that shot in New York, edited in London (where I did not go), returned to New York to do its music finishing work, and then mixed out in LA.

And the more I worked out here, the more I liked it. There were a lot of people out here who really knew what they were doing. So many projects (both film and television) were done here that there was a wealth of experience for me to sop up.

Of course, eventually, I moved out here and it’s been fun ever since. (Well, not all the time, but…)

Now, of course, sometimes I wonder what use Hollywood has. I know that it still is the corporate center of many of the major entertainment companies — though if you take a look at the percentage that those companies contribute to their parents’ bottom lines, I wonder if it will stay that way. Sure, there are a whole bunch of lots out here (a few less after Sunday’s fire) but there are more and more opening all across the globe now. In fact, as we build new facilities at USC, some of our advisors are telling us that the days of big studios are over — thanks to mocap and visual effects shooting (as well as location work). Then there is the ubiquitous “democratization of the media” (about which I’ve talked all too much) which is spreading shooting all over the world, in much cheaper venues than ever before.

Then there is this article from today’s Los Angeles Times – “New York’s film, TV incentives could tax L.A.’s economy” which talks about how many states, including New York, are now offering huge tax incentives for shooting (New York’s tax rebate is 30%; in New York City that rises to 35% of the below-the-line budget). Meanwhile, the California legislature spent weeks, in the last session, arguing over taxing the porn industry.

It’s my guess that you only call it “runaway production” when it’s running away from you, not towards you. But it seems to me that, in a world where media production doesn’t have to be centered around one locale anymore, that you’d do your best (if you were a state official) to make sure that your industries stayed in the state, rather than driving them away. It’s pretty exciting that someone in Michigan can pick up a camera and start creating content, without having to fly to Hollywood for all of the talent, but that’s not so great for people who are living in Hollywood.

I am often asked if it’s important to come to Hollywood to “make it in the business.” I usually stammer out an answer that is something like “It depends what business you want to be in.” If you want to make Hollywood films there are only a few cities you can live in to be a success — Los Angeles, New York, and perhaps London, Paris and Mumbai (I know I’ve left out a few — please submit your nominations below). The reality is that it is a lot easier to get films made if you’re in the middle of the action — the business is social above most everything else. If you want to write for films, it helps to be where the buyers are.

But it is also true that there are a lot more movies being made than Hollywood films (read “Bigger budgets, with bigger stars and other talent”). It’s not a big frog in a small pond kind of thing, it’s that there are a lot of desirable ponds.

Still, I wonder why the California Legislature is out fishing when it comes to their pond.



One response

19 01 2009

Norman, I found your blog accidentally, through a “WP suggestion” on Culturebot. And I am glad I did, I am enjoying it quite a bit.

This particular post made me smile, I grew up in Moscow and always favored New York over LA, and well, I still live in NYC and travel to the West Coast. But when I was going to LA for the very first time, I expected to despise it and I fell in love with it instead. And yes, I am a fan of Thomas Friedman 🙂

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