Imagine a class of second-graders trying to impress their teacher, sitting up straight, tiny hands clasped atop tidy desks. "Pick me! Pick me!"
Such was the scene at last week's Location Trade Show in Santa Monica. Only it wasn't kids. It was adults putting on their best behavior - all for Hollywood. Some 250 exhibitors, from Jordan to Georgia, touted their respective state, region, or country as an ideal movie-making locale. The "movie bidness" is a coveted clean industry, increasingly coaxed out of California by tax incentives, discounted fees, and lavish perks. Middle America may love to bash Hollywood, but it would not mind it stopping by for a three-month visit.
Each location station featured snazzy handbooks, giveaways, and props. Everything from Japan's "happy coats" (I have no idea) to the pens Texas handed out (mine didn't work). Oklahoma had a nice booth with lovely location photos. "That's Oklahoma?" In your face, Steinbeck - water and hills do exist there.
Dino Lalli, who spent 20 years going to Hollywood junkets as an Oklahoma City entertainment reporter, is the one-man band of the Oklahoma Film Commission. This year he lured to the state a Bille August film starring Kelly Preston and Aidan Quinn.
"Oklahoma was the first to offer a 15% cash-back tax program, which has been emulated by many other states," Lalli told me. "There is a tremendous spirit of cooperation and hospitality here, and I think filmmakers appreciate it."
But Oklahoma isn't OK with Governor Arnold, who just named Clint Eastwood to the state film commission that's trying to prevent runaway production to other states. Or countries. Indeed, Hollywood's stiffest competition comes from Canada and central Europe, where Berlin, Prague, and Romania lure a combined 20 or more US productions a year with their historic architecture and cheap skilled labor.
"We offer tax incentives, abundant studio space, and 600-year-old buildings you can't find in LA," said Anja Metzger, a German film commissioner. Berlin's main competition has been Hungary and the Czech Republic, but once those nations join the EU on May 1, the price of business there will likely rise, putting Berlin back in the cinema catbird seat it occupied in the 1960s.
The whole world is coming after Hollywood. It's up to Dirty Harry and The Terminator to stop them. Now that sounds like a movie I'd like to see.
Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer