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A Celebration Of California Film Making At Film In California Conference

“CHiPs” panel from left to right: Alex Cohen, Andrew Panay, Dax Shepard, Ravi Mehta, Rick Schuler, Sargent Mamuel Gill . Photo credit: Film in California Conference

By Marjorie Galas

The annual Film in California Conference has grown in size and scale over the past few years.  Presented on May 21st at the CBS Studio Center in Studio City, an eager crowd formed early and stayed throughout the day long event, enjoying keynote sessions, special panels, and assorted beverages represented by filming locations throughout the state.    To kick off the event, Amy Lemisch, Executive Director of the California Film Commission, summed up the recent state of production throughout California.

“We have the best in above the line, the best in below the line, and now we have the best bottom line,” said Lemisch.

To back up her statement, Lemisch was proud to announce that the newly expanded production incentive credits have resulted in 1.7 billion of in-state spending resulting in the increase of productions throughout California.  Of that amount, $660 million has been spent in paychecks for local crew.    The tax credits have also resulted in five television series returning to the state from areas as far away as Vancouver.  These returning productions have set up shop not only in Los Angeles but other California jurisdictions including San Diego, San Francisco, Orange County and San Bernadino, to name a few.

The conference’s keynote speaker, writer and producer Gary Marshall, warmly greeted the crowd by stating “I’m here, and I’m wearing a jacket,” noting he dressed up on a Saturday morning specifically for the event.   A legend of film and television, Marshall’s hits include TV’s “The Odd Couple” and “Happy Days” and films such as “Pretty Woman” and “Beaches.”  In addition to those hit films, Marshall stated he shot seven additional features in the state, and preferred California over any other state due to its talented crew base and diversity of locations.

“I’m from the Bronx but never shot there,” said Marshall.  “My family is based in California and I have shot here my entire career.  Whatever you want, you get in California.”

Writer/actor/director Dax Shepard also joined the conference on a panel highlighting his latest California-based feature production “CHiPs”.  A re-imagining of the 70s TV series that followed two California highway patrol officers, Shepard’s intention was to shoot in California from the onset.  However, he and the team who joined him on the panel: producer Andrew Panay, producer and Warner Bros. EVP, Physical Production and Finance Ravi Mehta, Location manager Rick Schuler and technical advisor Sargent Manuel Gill, knew the locations hinged on the tax credit coming through.

“I had back up plans outside the state and a few re-writes of the script prepared, just in case,” said Shepard.

Led by moderator Alex Cohen, the panel discussed issues such as finding locations outside the Los Angeles limits that allowed them to qualify for the tax incentive, the challenge of modernizing a recognized, and serialized,  entity and infusing dramatic elements into an often campy property.  Before the session wrapped, Shepard reflected on the days he watched “CHiPs” on television as a child growing up in Detroit.  As he grew up, he saw the city crumble, and warned without proper nurturing, the California tax credit could reach the same fate.

“People came to Detroit for the auto industry, but the industry was not nurtured.  I watched it fall away and people move away,” said Shepard.  “Hollywood has a brand and a creative epicenter.  If other states continue to demonstrate their need for it, and we don’t protect what we worked so hard to achieve, we will lose it. We need to do what we can to protect it.”

The day continued with multiple, ninety-minute break-out sessions touching on topics including commercial production in the digital landscape and developing community relations on location shoots.  The day concluded with the presentation of California’s first “Golden Slate Award.”

Actress Jamie Lee Curtis was on hand to present the award to producer Ryan Murphy.  Currently a lead on Murphy’s hit “Scream Queens”, Curtis shared her story of initially turning down her role due to the production’s Louisiana based location to stay home with her LA based family.  A father himself, Murphy adjusted the shooting schedule to minimize Curtis’ days on set, allowing her to commit to the production.  Always intending to have “Scream Queens” based in California, he was able to relocate that series, along with “American Horror Story”, to California.

“I begged to shoot in this town,” said Murphy.  “As a young kid growing up in Indiana my dream was always to shoot in Hollywood, not Vancouver.  I’m thrilled ‘Scream Queens’ will be shooting its second season in this town.  It’s so important to me as an artist.”