Thanks to Unions, ‘American Sniper’ Faced Big Overtime Costs

Newport Beach, CA

With the release of the new Clint Eastwood movie American Sniper, which just beat James Cameron’s Avatar box office release by $28 million, many Californians are recognizing a number of shooting sites in Orange County and wondering why the studios don’t use more Southern California locations outside of Los Angeles.

Despite living in a globalized economy, unions film crews charge a “distant location” surcharge for filming outside of the so-called 30-Mile Zone (TMZ) compared to places closer to Hollywood.

In American Sniper, Navy Seal Chris Kyle and his wife, played by Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, respectively, walk down the Seal Beach Pier in between one of his four tours of duty in Iraq. Unlike those in Los Angeles County, the pier and beach are quiet and serene. But every minute of filming in the OC cost the movie producer the equivalent of overtime compared to “studio rates” charged by union film projects for per diem rates and driving distances for crew members, under a contract with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Technicians, Artists, and Allied Crafts of the United States, its Territories and Canada, AFL-CIO.

Despite the higher costs, just about every city in Orange County has played a role in a movie, TV show or commercial, often doubling for another locale. “We are able to stand in for lots of different genre sites,” Janice Arrington, the one-woman Orange County Film Commission told the Orange County Register. “We have mountains; we have fields; we have modern buildings; we have lakes; we have the ocean.”

Despite such enthusiasm, Arrington admitted that the television series The O.C. was shot mostly in Los Angeles County. She knows that union “distant locations” costs can be severe.

Hollywood unions claim the reason TMZ has lost production work since the 1990s is due to tax incentives that are offered in 41 other states and in other countries. But the real issue is that California unions have priced themselves out of the business.

This is all somewhat amusing, considering that Hollywood pioneered often scandalous tax credits from their political “friends” in Sacramento decades ago.

Hollywood union bosses called it a crisis that 4,500 movie and TV production jobs were lost in California between 2005 and 2012, and demanded state subsidies to save Hollywood. But during the same period, California lost 1.4 million jobs overall. Many of those jobs were outsourced due to state tax and regulatory increases to pay for other subsidies.

Refusing to acknowledge they are their own worst enemy, on the day before Labor Day 2014 the union bosses did convince Governor Jerry Brown and his Democrat allies to increase California’s $100 million Film and TV Tax Credit Program to $330 million. Brown was all butterflies and unicorns about how Hollywood “one percenters” will supposedly create more middle-class jobs.

To measure of the impact of state subsidies and credits, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue estimated that for every dollar of film tax credits it awarded, the state received back only 13 cents in revenue from 2006 to 2011. The state net cost worked out to $128,575 for every Massachusetts resident that obtained a film or TV job.

If you are interested in the economic pain suffered by the California middle class, please click on California Might be 7th Largest Economy, But is 1st in Poverty