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Letter on Runaway Production

by John Hays Sunday, Dec. 02, 2001 at 11:16 AM

In the buildup to a large runaway production rally at the Hollywood Bowl- Sunday December 2nd at 1pm

The pilot for the new television series “Pasadena” was shot in the L.A. area. However, the rest of the episodes are being produced in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. I don't know precisely how many (Canadian) crew members ARE working on the series, but I'm definitely a resident of Pasadena, and yes, I'm definitely NOT working on "Pasadena". As a crew technician who (less and less often) works on various films, series, and commercials, I've experienced the loss of entertainment industry jobs in the L.A. region as a result of 'runaway' productions shooting in Canada (and, to a lesser degree, places such as Australia, New Zealand, and Mexico).

Some examples: "Titanic" was mostly shot in Mexico, "X-Men" in Canada, "The Matrix" trilogy and much of the latest "Star Wars" movies mostly in Australia. Besides "Pasadena", such TV series as "Dark Angel", "7 Days" (after an initial season in L.A.), the first five seasons of "The X-Files", and most of Showtime's original programming are or were shot in Canada, as are many HBO films and the bulk of all movies-of-the-week (San Marino's very own Stephen Cannell was responsible for spearheading this trend in the late '80s with several of his TV series, by the way). On top of that, "Hercules", "Xena", "Jack of All Trades" and "Cleopatra 2525" are TV series shot in New Zealand. And this list is far from complete.

I can think of very few household-name actors (or directors) who are willing to speak out on this matter. Ironically, many of them are more than willing to publicly decry the myriad injustices they see and hear in the largely cruel world we all share space in, yet virtually none of them will do something to help the very people who make them look and sound like the stars they are. If Robert DeNiro had demanded it, "The Score" probably could have been shot in the U.S. -- not Montreal; if Arnold Schwarzenegger had demanded it, "The Sixth Day" probably could have been shot in the U.S. -- not Vancouver; if Tom Cruise had demanded it, "Mission Impossible II" probably could have been shot in the U.S. -- not Australia.

To cite some other prominent examples, after all of the following actors' names I've put the titles of films they starred in which were partly or completely shot in Canada: Jack Nicholson ("The Pledge"), Paul Newman ("Where the Money Is"), Ben Affleck ("Reindeer Games"), Nicholas Cage ("Snake Eyes") Morgan Freeman ("Along Came a Spider"), Sylvester Stallone ("Get Carter", "Driven"), John Travolta ("Battlefield Earth"), Nick Nolte ("Affliction"), Tim Robbins ("Mission to Mars", "Antitrust"), Bill Pullman ("Lake Placid").

On the other hand, I know of some actors on several TV series who said "no" to Canada; thanks to them, I got to work on their shows in the U.S. -- and they're not even big names. If they can do it, what excuses do the members of the multi-millionaire club have?

Many of the jobs which do remain here often do so as a result of wage and benefit concessions, resulting in a lower standard of living for those of us trying to maintain a moderate lifestyle in the relatively expensive region we live in. When our income drops, so does our cash output, thereby negatively impacting the local economy.

On top of that, with fewer productions shooting here there are fewer permit and other fees going into the public coffers, along with less food, gas, laundry, hardware, etc. purchases made by said productions, thus further reducing the revenues circulating in the region we live in.

While many industry executives and the politicians they're often in bed with would like us to offer financial incentives to counter the subsidies offered by Canada and other locales (for "incentives" and "subsidies" insert "BRIBES"), this would only encourage a bidding war to the financial bottom between other regions and countries to offer even costlier bribes to the wealthy financiers of film and television productions. With the exception of a sparse few truly independent and/or financially strapped production companies, most of the movies and TV fare we get are backed by deep-pocketed investors, who are amongst the last people on this planet worthy of government pay-offs and union wage concessions for granting us the "privilege" of working on their productions.

If nothing else, I'd like to wake the general public up to the fact that most of the behind-the-scenes crew and office personnel working on these productions -- and most of the supporting and bit actors you see and hear on-screen -- are far from wealthy.

Yet we've been repeatedly told to cut our wages and benefits, while the public (which includes those of us in the entertainment industry) is being asked to spend part of their tax dollars to give breaks to these same truly wealthy financiers, in order to keep our jobs here. A preferable answer would be to impose countervailing tariffs on runaway productions, thus negating the foreign subsidies they receive. This would make the financiers take money OUT of their bulging pockets, rather than adding TO their riches. A tariff proposal is currently being circulated by some of us in the entertainment industry. We'd like as much public (and political) support as we can garner.

If those of you reading this don't want the entertainment industry to go the way of athletic shoes and other off-shore manufactured products, then you'll do what you can to speak out on our behalf and support our progressive efforts...unless you like the idea of seeing movies made by virtual slave laborers overseas –- which, considering our current trade relations with China, is actually becoming a possibility.


John Hays

The pilot for the new television series
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