TLG Talks to Colleen Bell, Director of the California Film Commission
In May 2019, California governor Gavin Newsom named Ms. Colleen Bell as the new Executive Director of the California Film Commissioner. Ms. Bell replaces Amy Lemisch, who had held the position for an unprecedented fifteen years, and oversaw the implementation of the California tax credit to combat run away productions.
TLG talks to Colleen Bell, the newly appointed California Film Commissioner about her top priorities as Commissioner, and why California remains a great place to base productions.
What path led you to becoming the California Film Commissioner?
I have a background in television production. I was a producer for one of the top rated, most-watched television shows in the world, called The Bold and the Beautiful, which I am very proud of. Its an American, dramatic serial. And when I was producing, we were in about a hundred-and-two countries around the world, with as many as sixty million viewers worldwide, every day. We shot two hundred and fifty episodes a year, the show is still going and doing very well, but I segued from working in television to becoming a diplomat. I worked for the US State Department and served as the US ambassador to Hungary from 2014 to 2017. When I came back from my post I then worked as a consultant for a couple of different thinktanks, with an emphasis and specialty in central and Eastern Europe.
In January 2019 Governor Gavin Newsom was elected and I have known the Governor for quite some time. We had a conversation about me coming to work for him, and this opportunity arose. Serving as the Film Commissioner for the state and working for the state of California was really a great fit for me because it merges both my private sector work in production, with my public sector work in government and diplomacy.
As the new Film Commissioner, what are your top priorities?
I would like to increase our tax credit program and extend the length to encourage infrastructure and investment here in California. I would also like to continue to eliminate barriers to filming, maintain and create film friendly policies and market California as the premier filming destination in the world.
During your time in Hungary it rose to become one of Europe’s busiest filming hubs, has this informed your perspective on your new role?
When you serve as a US ambassador to a country, one of the responsibilities is to encourage and promote economic cooperation between the US and the country where you are posted. I really used that opportunity to help the Hungarians encourage production in Hungary, and I feel that I was very successful at being able to do that.
When the decision makers from the US would come to me saying, we are considering a project in Hungary, I’d say first to them, okay, but have you completely ruled out the United States of America for shooting? And if they said, yes, we’ve completely ruled it out I’d say, well I want you in Hungary. I was able to advocate for Hungary in terms of what they had to offer as a filming destination.
How can California face of the global competition that is increasing year upon year?
What I have found since I have come into this position, is that we need to improve our competitiveness. I think the way that we need to do that is to increase our tax credit program, and we also need to find other ways of incentivising production here in California. I am looking for every possibility in order to do that, so we can be more competitive with other jurisdictions, both here in the United States and abroad.
I do believe, however, that California is great value. Even though we can’t offer the same level of incentives at this moment; we have an extremely talented workforce, excellent infrastructure, equipment, locations, and our weather is the best, so we have all of that to offer.
And we are a prosperous state right now, we are a three trillion dollar economy - bigger than Texas and Florida combined. We have added 3.1 million jobs since February 2010, and we are very good physical shape with 21.5 billion roughly in budget surplus. This is a great place to come and make an investment, and to do business, for so many different reasons.
And one other reason is that California, as a state, celebrates our multiculturalism. We are an open state, and that is something that we are extremely proud of.
What productions have recently shot in California, that have demonstrated these qualities?
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, for instance, was one of the recipients of our tax credit program. It is a phenomenal film, and on a personal level, I’m a huge Tarantino fan, I think the film is just extraordinary. It is so much fun to see the Streets of Los Angeles, and to bear witness to the contemplative, and dark story.
We just did one of our latest allocations, and we have ten films that will be produced here in this state, and we are very excited about that. One thing that we are trying to do is have more shooting days take place outside of our Los Angeles zone, so that the economic opportunities are shared by more Californians in different regions, in districts up and down the state.
California's Film and TV Tax Credit program provides a 20 - 25% tax credit to film and television projects. Independent and Relocating TV series in the first program year receive 25%. Qualified spend for feature films is USD1 million and USD1 million per episode. A 5% uplift for out of LA zone filming, music scoring & track recording. Recent productions to have utilised the credit includes Penny Dreadful, which recently relocated from Ireland to California, Netflix's You from New York to LA as well as features such as Bumblebee, which utilised the 5% uplift for filming in Solano.
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