“Christmas in Hollywood” Shoots for Authenticity, as Other Jurisdictions Offer Independents Good Tidings

“Christmas in Hollywood” Shoots for Authenticity, as Other Jurisdictions Offer Independents Good Tidings

Bigger-budget studio features, once the mainstay of the Los Angeles film production economy, are no longer filmed in great numbers in the region. With the availability of generous filming incentives in jurisdictions outside California, most big-budget features are now filmed outside the state.

As a result, the majority of the feature films FilmL.A. works on are mid-to-low budget independent features, smaller productions seeking to capitalize on California’s other filming advantages. Christmas in Hollywood, an independent, low-to-mid-budget feature film produced in Greater Los Angeles, is among the projects made in the area in 2013.

Producer Bertie Higgins is candid about his reasons for bringing Christmas in Hollywoodto Hollywood. For Higgins, pop star and head of Burbank, CA based Cayo Largo Productions LLC, authenticity was key, but so were local access to qualified crew and talent, a diverse array of filming locations and a developed network of industry vendors.

Higgins’ film – in which a young boy from China journeys through a vivid CGI world of travel and magic, before going on to meet Santa Claus and save a holiday beloved by millions – provided local work opportunities for a cast and crew of four dozen. Talent costs aside, Higgins’ daily spend during 18 days on location included the lease of trailers and picture vehicles, fuel, props, make up, costumes, and catering. The production also leased space at Willow Studios downtown and paid permit and personnel fees for the use of a public park and other locations.

Higgins, who has several other independent films under his belt, says that he enjoys working in Los Angeles but is nonetheless tempted by options (and subsidies) to work outside the region.

“For our next project, we’re looking at making a new musical drama set in the 1950’s about the birth of rock and roll,” Higgins explains. “Darren Dowler, lead singer of Paul Revere and the Raiders, will star in the film.  Filming will begin early in 2014 with a similar sized crew. At this point we are considering all options outside California in order to bring our costs down. I’d love to stay in L.A. and California, but Florida is my home state and offers very good benefits for filmmakers plus a similar climate.”

Experts caution that the threat facing California’s economy from runaway low-budget productions is challenging to quantify. Private support for independent film making is strong in Los Angeles, through the work of organizations like the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA)FilmIndependent, and New Filmmakers L.A.

The California Film & Television Tax Credit Program, administered by the California Film Commission, even includes a $10 million funding reserve within its $100 million annual program budget for independent films. However, under current rules, California-based productions with budgets over $70 million and below $1 million are ineligible for state credit.  Funds are awarded by lottery, and high demand means that the year’s entire allocation is exhausted in a single morning.

“California is a long way behind other states in providing incentives to film here,” Higgins notes. “I think we’ve proven with Christmas in Hollywood that you can make a low to mid budget feature in Los Angeles and succeed, but we’d certainly welcome more assistance to help keep independent productions here.”

Christmas in Hollywood was produced by Cayo Largo Productions in partnership with China-based Beauty INC/ICNTV and stars Bertie Higgins (producer and platinum record winning pop star for hits like “Key Largo” and “Casablanca”), Darren Dowler (actor, director, producer and accomplished lead singer of Paul Revere and the Raiders) and China-based youth recording artist Jiang Zi Long. The film’s script, penned by Bertie Higgins, Darren Dowler and Larry Madill, was honored as the Best Dialogue Feature out of 2000 submissions at the Action on Film International Film Festival in Los Angeles this past July.  The film will be released in 2014; talent for the film were featured in the 2013 Hollywood Christmas Parade.

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