Hollywood has a problem and it’s not my fault. Really it isn’t. But if you’re a screenwriter living outside L.A., L.A.’s problem is your opportunity.
Don’t blame me if Hollywood is the new Detroit. I just started “Screenwriting from Iowa” last year. L.A.’s runaway problem has been going on for the last decade. Runaway production is the term used to describe movies not being filmed in L.A.
The Directors Guild of America (DGA) breaks this down into two catagories; Creative Runaway and Economic Runaway. The first being those movies that are filmed outside L.A. because the story actually takes place outside L.A. and the second is movies that are filmed outside L.A. because for whatever reason it is cheaper to shoot on location.
This is where the window of opportunity comes for writers outside L.A. I think production companies are combining creative and economic reasons to film outside L.A. That is they are looking for scripts that take place outside L.A. because they are cheaper to producer there, a large part due to tax incentives given by such states as Iowa and Michigan. (Not to mention the dent already made by Canada.)
There is a lot of finger pointing going on right now in L.A. as people are watching jobs disappear (unions, traffic and hassle of filming on location in L.A., cost of living, etc.), There is even talk about a L.A. film czar that will help reign business back to L.A. and time will tell how effective that will be. But how bad is it? Let’s look at the numbers.
According to The Wrap, back in 1996 there were 71 major film permits given in L.A. for shooting in L.A. county. (Films budgeted over $80 million.) In 2008 the number was down to 21. This year there have only been 3 major films that have applied for film permits.
Of course, one way in which Hollywood is not like Detroit is that people still want American movies. And I think the USA still makes the best movies. So movies are still being made and there is still an audience. It’s just that they are being made less and less in L.A.
But some even in L.A. see the positive aspects of this trend. John Nolte writes on his blog, “While people losing their livelihood is not something to cheer about, there is a silver lining. Anything that helps the film industry become less L.A.-centric will only be a positive. Maybe you have to live out here to feel this strong about it, but Los Angeles as a shooting location is played. The downtown skyline, Santa Monica Pier, Griffith Observatory, same freeways, same bridges, same Miracle Mile, etc… There’s only so much you can do with a sprawling one-story ghetto. Every once in a while a director comes along and shoots the city in a unique and imaginative way, but this is happening less and less.”
Films have always been made outside L.A. and if you go to the section here called “Screenwriting Road Trips” you’ll see how I’ve covered many states and how many wonderful films have been made outside California. And Alexandyr Kent of USA TODAY has an excellent overview of films made in other states in his article 50 niffty filmmaking states.
L.A. and New York are the core of the industry and that won’t change. But like almost everything else in this new economic shift people are reinventing how things are done. Will big Hollywood productions return to the streets of L.A.? Who knows? But I think this is the greatest time in the history of the film business to be a creative person living outside L.A. So keep writing those off-Hollywood stories because Hollywood is starting to land in the fly-over zone. (As of this writing four features are crewing-up in Iowa alone. And while they’re not $80 million + films, I see it as a good sign.)
And while the auto industry in the USA is in trouble I do want to say my 2004 Dodge Durango has been the best (and most dependable) vehicle I have ever owned. And I’ve had Toyotas, Nissans, and Hondas. It’s got 82,000 miles and hasn’t had a single repair. I just load it with equipment, put gas in it, change the oil now and then. Thanks to all the good people at Chrysler Corp. who designed and built my Durango.
copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith