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April 30th 2005

City backs production probe
Switched vote key in council siding with entertainment workers who want federal investigation of foreign films.

By Mark R. Madler, The Leader

DOWNTOWN BURBANK -- Having gained the support of the City Council, workers in the entertainment industry feel they have the spark needed to convince federal officials to start an investigation into subsidies that lure film and television production away from Southern California.

Members of the Film and Television Action Committee burst into applause Tuesday after the council voted, 3-2, to support a resolution calling for a probe by the U.S. trade representative.

"This gives us the momentum required to begin the long march to Washington," said Tim McHugh, owner of Area 51, a special effects studio in Burbank.

With the city's support in hand, the committee hopes other municipalities will get on board to back the investigation, McHugh added.

"Every city council in Southern California is on our radar screen," McHugh said. "How we coordinate the people to make it work we are still working on."

This was the second time the resolution came before the council. A vote in March resulted in a tie.

Councilman Todd Campbell, who opposed the resolution in the first vote, was the deciding factor the second time around. He gave the needed third "yes" vote.

The switch was based on the belief that an investigation will address an issue that significantly affects workers, Campbell said.

"Even if they are unsuccessful, it is still important to show them support," Campbell said.

Seeking to cut production costs, studios have filmed TV shows and movies in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Eastern Europe, where expenses may be fewer and tax credits and other financial incentives are offered by their governments.

Studies for the Screen Actors Guild and the U.S. Commerce Department estimate a loss of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy because of runaway production.

Also voting in favor of the resolution were Mayor Marsha Ramos and Councilman Dave Golonski. In opposition were Councilwoman Stacey Murphy and Vice Mayor Jef Vander Borght.

The effectiveness of the investigation was questionable, and there wasn't enough information provided to the council, Murphy said.

Also, competition for production comes as much from other states as it does from overseas, Murphy said.

"Even if we stop runaway production to other countries, we're still going to fight to keep it here in California," Murphy said. "I think we are better served by having tax incentives to keep the productions here."

The Motion Picture Assn. of America, an organization representing the seven major studios, including three based in or near Burbank -- Disney, Warner Bros. and NBC Universal -- opposed the resolution as well.

In a statement, the association expressed disappointment in the council vote and that its action will not result in jobs staying in the state.

What's next for the committee is to continue raising funds to pay for lawyers who will petition the trade office for the investigation.

The petition could be filed by year's end, McHugh said.

"If we get the money together, we can then be in a position to go," he added.

MARK MADLER covers City Hall and the courts.
He may be reached at (818) 637-3242
or by e-mail at mark.madlerlatimes.com.


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