Film & Television Music: A “Score” for the California Economy

Film & Television Music: A “Score” for the California Economy


If you’ve been following recent entertainment industry news, you know that there is an ongoing controversy about film scoring and where music production for films and television series should occur.  With California jobs hanging in the balance, Film Works is pleased to introduce the first of an ongoing series of articles about film scoring in Hollywood, with the first article exploring the deep connection between California’s film and music production industries and the ongoing challenge of global competition…


Film Works supporters will find it interesting that earlier this year, the State of Georgia tweaked its film incentive law to make it clear that music production for film and television projects shooting in the state is “an eligible expense“:

“This is great news for the state’s economy,” said Phil Tan, an Atlanta-based three-time Grammy Award music engineer. “This will enable local music-related business entities to have an additional marketing angle and attract record companies, artists, producers and other music makers to bring their projects here to Georgia.”

Georgia’s move is significant, because it underscores what local musicians have been experiencing for some time.  Not only are other states and nations targeting California’s film and television industry, many would like a bigger share of our music and scoring industry as well.  Global competition continues to chip away at California’s creative economy, and professionals from a cross-section of creative industries are feeling the pinch.

Take Los Angeles-based composer Ragnar Rosinkranz, whose composition credits include CBS Television’s The District and the made-for-television movie Harvey (1996).  “Having other states specifically target the music industry is concerning,” Rosinkranz confided to Film Works, “but the local music industry has been getting hard-hit for a while.”

In fact, Ragnar noted, there is a trend of music and composition work fleeing not just California, but the entire nation, and it’s been going on for more than a decade.

Arguably the main reason music projects are leaving California is cost.  According to Rosinkranz, the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990′s caused Eastern Europe to be flooded with world-class musicians willing to work for a fraction of their Western counterparts.  The City of Prague in the Czech Republic became a major competitor for traditional music centers, putting a strain on places like London and Los Angeles.

  Another reason projects leave is to take advantage of available recording space.  Five years ago, Los Angeles’ cost disadvantage was compounded by the the closure of the first of two legendary Hollywood sound recording stages.  The first to close, the Todd-AO Scoring Stage, shut down operations in 2007.  The 7,200 square-foot facility at CBS Radford Studios was one of just three local stages that could accommodate 100 or more musicians.

Oscar-Winning Composer James Horner (Titanic, Braveheart, Apollo 13), who scored all of his US film projects at the Todd-AO stage, once said the staff was the “creme de la creme” and that closing it would mean a 30% loss of activity for Los Angeles. Horner also predicted that as facilities like Todd-AO closed, it would affect the career stability of American musicians, whether they were based in Los Angeles or not:

There is no place to record.  And eventually that will take its toll.  People won’t be able to record in L.A… [The] outfall of that is that if they’re going out of the city, they’re not using L.A. musicians…  [and] if they’re going out of the country, they’re not using American Federation of Musicians… at all.

In the video below, Dennis Dreith of the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund said the closure of Todd-AO meant the loss of “millions and millions of dollars for hundreds and hundreds of people”:

In 2008, the demolition of Paramount’s historic Stage M (M standing for music) was another blow to local musicians.  The last music for a film scored on Stage M came from Thomas Newman’s music for WALL-E.  A short documentary about the scoring process for that film, which includes footage from scoring  on Stage M appears at the bottom of this article.

Indeed, stage closures, competition from Eastern Europe and the rise of film and television tax credits in dozens of states and nations has, as James Horner predicted, taken a toll on L.A. musicians.  In 1996 (the year before Canada introduced the first modern film tax credits), Los Angeles’ share of the movie scoring industry was 38%; by 2008, the city’s share dropped to just 30%, according to the Los Angeles Times:

Although L.A. remains the largest center for scoring in the movie industry, its share of the industry dropped to about 30% in 2008 from 38% in 1996, according to the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund… One of the biggest centers for movie music is London, where “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Thor” and the upcoming “Captain America” were all scored. Britain offers a generous film tax credit that covers post-production costs. Many other films are scored in Seattle and in such Eastern European cities as Bratislava in Slovakia, where music for the movie “Priest” was recorded.

Rosinkranz said music scoring means hiring lots of people and purchasing lots of equipment, all of which trickles down and impacts local businesses and taxes.  Of the 900 members in the L.A. chapter of the Recording Musicians Association, 500 depend on regular work from the film and television industry, as do many others:

Agents, Orchestra Contractors, Orchestrators, Mixers, Music Editors, Techs and Assistants all benefit, plus post production mixers, foley, ADR employees/contractors and techs on hand.  Also benefiting are the companies that sell things like recording equipment, computer equipment, instruments, software and so on.  This of course trickles down to real estate, i.e. mortgages for the recording/mixing stages and also… families that stay in L.A. due to the business. Big ticket items like mortgages, car payments, insurance, food, etc. all impact local business and taxes.

In our next article, we’ll take a look at what Hollywood musicians are doing to keep work in California.

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