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Austin Beutner

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Stop Giving the Entertainment Industry the Silent Treatment

Posted: 02/23/2012 3:08 pm

This awards season, we're enjoying the acclaim given to The Artist, a silent picture that gives tribute to the Hollywood of yesteryear.

But what's curious is the same town -- while lauding the artistry of silence -- is doing little to speak up for the entertainment industry and to sustain its presence in Southern California.

Case in point: the lack of support for our entertainment industry. Since 1997, California has lost $2.4 billion in wages and $4.2 billion in total economic output as production has dropped 50%. With it, we lost 20,000 jobs.

We need to reverse that trend.

The good news? California has the pieces we need to start creating jobs again.

We have a creative community second to none. It is home to the likes of Activision, NBC, and Paramount Pictures; it's also why companies like Toyota, Mattel, and Gensler choose to come here.

Our world-class arts education network will help train the next generation of creators. At our own CalArts, John Lasseter was once a student. Today, he's revolutionizing the movie industry as the CEO of Pixar.

He's but one example of CalArts graduates like Don Cheadle, Sofia Coppola, Marcelo Zarvos, Mark Bradford, Yuan Yuan Wang, and Tim Burton who've gone on to become leaders in their fields.

As the lines between California's entertainment industry, education community, and creative economy continue to blur, it can mean new opportunities for Californians.

Tech start-ups like Netflix are getting into scripted entertainment. Films like Avatar, one part filmed entertainment, and one part digital pioneer, are reimagining Hollywood production.

In addition to jobs, a thriving entertainment industry means more tax revenues for cities to pay for core services -- fixing roads and sidewalks, keeping police and firefighters at work, putting teachers and textbooks in classrooms.

Let's support the creative jobs of tomorrow. Here's how:

The largest new source of incentive money for filmmaking is EB-5, a federal program targeting international investors who create jobs in America.

EB-5 investors have already put together $150 million to invest in films and put folks to work; but that money is stuck in government limbo. It's time to get it unstuck.

While this initial pool of money is invested, California should work with overseas partners to expand the program and make it a continuing source of money to increase local film production.

As a state we need to identify ways to do things differently. In the movies, there would be a happy ending -- a larger incentive fund -- but instead, our state's budget deficits leave lawmakers without two nickels to rub together.

Los Angeles should lead a statewide effort to develop a comprehensive plan to help the entertainment industry grow in California. Let's take a step back and measure the effectiveness of the state's current incentive program. Taxpayers deserve to know what they are getting in return.

Let's determine what changes should be made to improve the program. And while we're at it, let's weigh recommendations from the Milken Institute's "Film Flight" report, which offers policy prescriptions including implementation of a new digital media tax credit and investment in long-term infrastructure and technology upgrades.

Cities like Los Angeles have to be more accommodating to this cornerstone of the California economy.

We're reminded of the experience the producers of Fox's series 24 had when they tried to work in Los Angeles.

What were they told by city officials? No filming after 10 pm.

Like so many others, we are fans of The Artist; but it's time Los Angeles stopped giving the entertainment industry the silent treatment. It's time for a real plan to help Los Angeles once again lead the way.

Stop Giving the Entertainment Industry the Silent Treatment Originally Appeared in CSQ Magazine.

Austin Beutner is the Chairman of the Board of the California Institute of the Arts, the Community Arts Partnership, and the Broad Stage. He is the retired founder and former CEO of Evercore Partners, an international investment firm.

Steven Lavine is President of the California Institute of the Arts.

 

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