California’s New Film Commissioner Colleen Bell Looks Beyond Hollywood

Eight of the 10 productions recently approved for state tax credits will shoot outside of the 30-mile studio zone

Colleen Bell, the California Film Commission’s newly appointed director, has a mandate: Make “California for all” more than just a slogan, and her plan to accomplish that is to expand Hollywood’s film and TV business beyond Los Angeles.

Next year, as part of the plan to keep pushing the commission’s program forward, it will provide a job training component for production jobs that Bell said will specifically target people in disadvantaged communities.

“Right now, we’re having broad discussions about re-enforcing California’s position as the leading production location in the world,” Bell told TheWrap. “This is an evolutionary time in terms of the demand for content. We’ve become accustomed to this strong focus on L.A. and Hollywood as this zone where most production takes place, but do we know that that’s going to be the case for the next 10 years? There’s a possibility that these opportunities can be shared with other regions.”

Bell took over as film commissioner for the state in May, picking up the baton from California’s longest serving commissioner Amy Lemisch, who left the post after 15 years.

Bell was a longtime TV producer on CBS’s soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful,” and she also served as ambassador to Hungary during the Obama era. But she’s now taking the reins of the film commission at a critical juncture, as Hollywood juggles money and morals amid new anti-abortion laws in some of the most sought after tax incentive destinations for TV and film productions, such as Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama and Ohio.

And, as Bell said, there’s more opportunity now than ever before as the demand for content continues to balloon.

But convincing studios and producers to essentially leave money on the table and choose California might be easier said than done.

“It’s competitive. Other jurisdictions are trying to offer more desirable conditions for filming by maybe having higher tax credits.” Bell said. “They’re doing what they need to do to encourage production in their jurisdictions. We just have to maintain our competitiveness, which is the No. 1 priority.

“There are some decision-makers when it comes to where they’re going to produce their projects that it’s all about the money, and there are others who’ve come back to me and said, ‘You know what, we were kind of chasing the dollars, the higher tax incentive, but at the end of the day we’re recognizing the value is here.'”

When talking about all that California has to offer is when Bell’s eyes truly light up. She boasts about the mountains, ocean, desert and forest. She drills down into the nuances of California only offering credits for below-the-line crew members unlike states like Georgia, and she speaks more effusively about the “exceptionally talented and skilled workforce” California has in the production field.

A lot of decisions, however, still come down to the money. Last year, lawmakers in Sacramento  extended the state’s tax incentive program for film and TV to 2025, and in 2016, the state raised the annual tax credit cap to $330 million from $100 million. Bell wants to take that a step further by spreading the love.

California has already added an additional 5% credit for productions that film outside of the 30-mile studio zone. But Bell said the state needs to stay competitive by continuing to extend and increasing its tax benefit, as well as expanding the program to get more and more productions filming from northern California and down to San Diego.

Eight of the 10 productions most recently approved for tax credits from the state will shoot outside of the zone, spending a total of 89 days outside of the zone and a forthcoming “Purge” sequel filming 25 days in San Diego County.

It’s a push the commission is dedicated to making happen.

The Governor’s chief economic advisor Lenny Mendoca said when the new credits were announced: “It is fantastic to see the economic impact our entertainment industry has on this state being shared across several regions of California. I hope other industries will also take notice of our diverse regions and the opportunities they hold.”

Bell has the tough job of convincing both the Hollywood community, as well as legislators and their constituents that investing more in the program is in California’s benefit.

“Everyone is vying for state resources, so it’s competitive in that regard; however, our tax credit program is one of the state’s most effective and proven economic development tools,” Bell said. “We can make a very strong case for not just maintaining the tax credit program but eventually, hopefully, increasing and expanding the program.”

Trey Williams

Trey Williams

Film Reporter covering the biz • trey.williams@thewrap.com • Twitter: @trey3williams



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