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By Evan Pondel, Staff Writer

Film trade law probe urged,
Group wants subsidies investigated

The Film and Television Action Committee has called on local and federal government to support an investigation of foreign film companies to determine whether they are violating existing trade laws.

In a recent move, the Studio City-based organization asked Burbank's City Council to endorse a petition that could initiate a U.S.-backed investigation of film subsidies in Canada. FTAC said they are attempting to curtail the hundreds of millions of dollars lost to runaway production by eventually filing a petition with the United States Trade Representative. Burbank council members have agreed to hear FTAC's concerns March 15 and possibly endorse a U.S.-led investigation.

"I think there is no doubt we'll get behind them," said Councilman Todd Campbell. "The question is whether their resolution (to call on the U.S. government) is the right mode or avenue to pursue."

Trade groups are divided on this issue, uncertain whether an investigation of Canada is warranted considering the country's voracious appetite for U.S. television and theatrical material. "They are our No. 1 customer and if we start a trade war with Canada they can inflict much more harm on us," said Fritz Attaway, an executive vice president and Washington general counsel for the Motion Picture Association of America. "It would be foolish for us to precipitate actions that would inhibit the exhibition of U.S. films and television in Canada."

A withering U.S. dollar has helped ebb the flow of runaway production in recent months. Regional economic forecasts are even predicting an expansion of film and television production work throughout Southern California this year. But Don Newman, an executive director of FTAC, said forecasts are not enough to allay fears of unfair competition in foreign countries.

"If a director decided to go to a foreign country for creative purposes, we don't have a problem with that. The issue is directors that go to foreign countries for budgetary reasons," he said. "We need actors and directors to start thinking about their community before doing that."

Motion picture tax incentives continue to rise in Canada, mostly to tame the disparity between the U.S. and Canadian dollar. And while Congress has implemented tax incentives throughout the U.S., the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. is in favor of creating more reasons for film producers to stay home.

"When the dollar rises, we could see production flee and go back to Canada," said Steve MacDonald, president of the Hollywood-based EIDC.

About 25 percent of all commercial work is shot outside the United States. MacDonald said the loss of work is aggravated when coupled with feature film productions that are shot in foreign countries. Various states are also poaching business from California, creating even more of a challenge for local economies to put a lid on runaway production.

"It's horrifying what has happened," said Amanda Champion, a production designer who sits on the board of FTAC. "And we are going to approach other cities throughout the region to spread the word."

FTAC was formed in 1998 to address runaway production as it relates to recovering American film jobs. The organization has developed a feisty, at times even misguided, reputation. The group said it plans to approach Los Angeles' City Council after securing Burbank's support.

"And we are very in tune with their goals. But we'll have to determine the best way to go about in keeping production here," said Burbank Councilman Dave Golonski. "We do applaud FTAC for what they are doing."

Evan Pondel, (818) 713-3662 evan.pondel@dailynews.com

http://www.dailynews.com/Stories/0,1413
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