I work for a motion picture camera rental company in Hollywood, California. This means that I see the ins and outs of the moviemaking business. The left hand truly has no idea what the right hand is doing. If one is a CPA out here, he or she must engage in some very creative accounting. On some level, I am so thankful for not being a numbers person. I am bald due to genetics, but if I was not, the work would force me to pull out my hair. Grace and mercy have rarely looked this good; therefore, I am beyond thankful.
Earlier this afternoon, I received an earfull from a Unit Production Manager (UPM), who proceeded to tell me how she could not have any paperwork reflecting my company’s name on it. Here is the lowdown, and this sort of thing is the norm within production. The UPM works for a television show owned by one of the big studios in Hollywood. Because of budget constraints and the like, the studio said see you later to Los Angeles for Atlanta, Georgia for principal photography. The latter is a word phrase to describe that most of the shooting will take place in Atlanta.
Some of my readers and followers might be wondering the reason for a Hollywood-based studio to take its entire production clear across the country. The answer is simple: money. If I wanted to be more specific and precise, and I do, the better answer is a tax break. One of my good friends runs a blog, which recounts his nuts-and-bolts approach to moviemaking. He and I attended film school over ten years ago, and both of us have no pity for California and Hollywood. When we were film students, what is the norm today, productions going elsewhere, had been a new trend that many in this state viewed as a passing fad. Well, Hollywood is no longer the center of production.
How does all this relate to the point of this post and creative accounting? The UPM who chewed me out informed me that my company cannot send her paperwork with our name on it. This will blow her show’s cover with the state of Georgia, who is under the impression that the Atlanta-based company provided all of the equipment. On paper, whatever deal the studio worked out with the state of Georgia, looks and sounds great like any creative and clever sounding theory. If anyone with half of a brain toured the set (which isn’t possible as these are closed sets with Fort Knox-like security measures), they would see camera and lens cases with my company’s name and logo. Hilarious, right?
Because actual film is now a relic of the past, this means that digital rules the day. My company’s high-end cameras are essentially computers from big-time manufacturers such as ARRI, which is based in Germany. Here is the issue. Digital technology is very finicky and high maintenance. When one of our cameras goes down, who is liable for providing a replacement? The Atlanta-based company could give a rip as its being used as a front. My company remains on the hook, but we do not exist according to the studio’s deal with the state of Georgia. It gets even better. Guess who eats the shipping cost for replacing the downed equipment?
Every single man, woman, and child knows how touchy digital technology is in our day and age. What I mean by this is that PCs work best with other PCs and the same is true for Macs. On a movie or television set, there will be a mix of equipment brands. There is no way to standardize digital technology across the board like the dinosaur known as film. Now, in ARRI’s defense, they know how to manufacture a robust camera that meets and exceeds the demands of production. Still, the tangled web of paperwork, companies that exist, but not really, and more, adds to the lunacy of Hollywood. It seems like its an industry flailing for its life.
There are moral and ethical questions aplenty, which my company and others like it face on a daily basis. In the end, the producers and studios are doing their job by getting the most bang for their buck. Even though the studios leave LA constantly, they make their money and then some. You can bet that the UPM will do everything in her power to keep the studio’s tax break. This is the entertainment business. It is not for the faint of heart. My oh my, how tangled is the web of production.