Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hope for California Animation

Jerry Brown
Potential Swami of Animation, Governor Jerry Brown.
Hope for California Animation. One of the biggest growth sectors in entertainment is animation. The animation craft really is taking over Hollywood.

Or, not quite yet. But it could.

One of the most difficult things to explain is why so much of the best animation isn't actually done in Hollywood. All the major studios are located there, Walt Disney practically invented modern animation there, but the studios farm it out to Australia or Japan or Canada or Ireland or other states. Now, why should they do that? It's not as if the scenery in Tokyo is any better for animation than that in the San Fernando Valley.

The reason is taxes. California has never given animation any kind of tax preference. Other jurisdictions do. That is a major reason why animation is shipped across the country or overseas because it is cheaper there and the work is of acceptable quality. This has been going on for decades. Sure, some animation work is done there, but the easy stuff is all farmed out. Sometimes, you just have to scratch your head at the blindness of lawmakers to do what is best for their people.

This Bill comes along as more evidence of the problem hits the news. Washington D.C. has just managed to lure Hollywood animation company Pigmental Studios away from LA. You may not have heard of Pigmental, it's no Disney or DreamWorks, but it has partnered with Pixar, Disney, and other animation studios. The sky is the limit with these smaller companies in this growing field. Pigmental now will move its operations from Los Angeles to the District because of approximately $250,000 in incentives that D.C. agreed to provide:
"We are excited to have Pigmental call the District home and look forward to seeing the creative energy they will bring to our burgeoning film production community," said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray in announcing the move. "Attracting businesses such as Pigmental is fueled by our efforts to create a more sustainable economy and generate opportunities that tap into the creative industry."
Pigmental Studios logo

The grant was part of D.C.'s tech incentives program, a program that LA and California could not match. There are also tax breaks and other assistance, all provided by D.C.'s Office of Motion Picture and Television Development. Pigmental plans to open an office in Georgetown, with 12 employees moving there and another 50 to be hired later. Pigmental currently is working on "Kong," a science fiction-inspired version of the Chinese epic "Journey to the West." Pigmental announced earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival that the movie will be released in 2016.

So the erosion of animation jobs (60+ jobs!) and talent and taxes from LA continues as we speak. The good news for Californians is that this could change, and soon.

This week, the California Assembly votes on Assembly Bill 8139, which puts the Golden State in serious competition for top-tier animation work with New York, Georgia, and Louisiana, as well as Britain and Canada, due to entertainment tax subsidies. For the first time, California has language in such a bill for visual effects and the animation that propels VFX.

This hasn't happened before. It's a sign that animation is becoming big league to the extent it wasn't before. Though we all know animation always has been big-time, the politicians just never bothered noticing.

Up until now, California's entertainment tax subsidies have focused on cable t.v. shows and lower budget features. Ever wonder why so much live-action production work takes place routinely in Vancouver, where seemingly half the television series in production is filmed? Because of tax subsidies there, and the lack of them in California. Does that make any sense whatsoever for Californians who need jobs? No. Has it ever mattered to the state's legislators? No.

Somehow, after decades of seeing jobs departing for other climes, the wise heads in Sacramento have come to recognize that visual effects jobs and high-end movies/television have been leaving the state in droves.

This is just a start. It's too much to expect politicians to get this done the first time. The State Senate might not even bother voting on the Bill, or it might lose the vote in the State House, or Jerry Brown may have a Moonbeam moment and not sign it if it ever does reach his desk.

But this legislation could see a big change in the animation field if it becomes law.

Jerry Brown
Jerry Brown


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