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April 23rd 2005

Workers ready for second take
Employees in show business return to council to get support for a call to investigate flight of film and television production.

By Mark R. Madler, The Leader

DOWNTOWN BURBANK -- An entertainment industry committee has been working behind the scenes to gain support from the Burbank City Council, which will meet Tuesday to vote on a resolution supporting an investigation into foreign film subsidies.

The Film and Television Action Committee is raising money to pay for legal help to file a challenge with the U.S. trade representative, arguing that overseas subsidies violate free-trade agreements.

Their efforts to get council approval for the resolution included a brief meeting with Councilman Todd Campbell and having committee members write letters to the council, said Tim McHugh, a committee member and owner of Area 51, a special-effects studio in Burbank.

A council vote on the resolution March 19 resulted in a tie, and since then members of the committee have worked to sway another vote to their side.

"I'd take a 5-0 [vote on the resolution] but can live with a 3-2," McHugh said.

In the first vote, Councilman Todd Campbell and Councilwoman Stacey Murphy voted against the resolution, while Councilman Dave Golonski and Mayor Marsha Ramos supported it.

Councilman Jef Vander Borght was out of the country at the time and did not vote.

Committee members, however, shouldn't look to Vander Borght for support of the resolution.

"If you ask me today or if you asked me three weeks ago, I don't believe this is something we should be involved with," Vander Borght said. "Certainly not something that has international implications."

Backing from city leaders is important, because the committee feels that if there's no support from the city its members live and work in, then support in Washington, D.C., would be less likely, McHugh said.

"We need local support to build momentum to go to the federal government," McHugh said.

Cost savings to studios has led to the filming of TV shows and movies in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Eastern Europe and England, where expenses are cheaper and tax credits and other financial incentives are offered by their governments.

The major film studios oppose any investigation into foreign subsidies because of a fear that overseas countries will close markets to American films, said Melissa Patack, vice president for California governmental affairs for the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

"When we start investigations into the policies of other countries, they will have the ability to take their anger out on our products," Patack said.

The Motion Picture Assn. of America is an organization representing the seven major studios -- including three based in or near Burbank: Disney, Warner Bros. and NBC Universal.

Also playing into Vander Borght's decision to not support the resolution were statistics showing that filming has increased in California and that when filming does leave the state it's going to places such as Nevada, Mississippi and Arizona, Vander Borght said.

"Those states are taking far more production [from California] than Canada does," Vander Borght said.

According to city statistics, The Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. account for 11,000 employees in the city. All told, entertainment and media-related companies are 30% of the city's 99,000 workers.

MARK MADLER covers City Hall and the courts. He may be reached at (818) 637-3242 or by e-mail at mark.madlerlatimes.com.


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