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State Tax Credit Programs Give L.A. Actors Tough Choices

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State Tax Credit Programs Give L.A. Actors Tough Choices
Photo Source: NBC

The tug of war between California and states with lucrative tax incentive programs—which are designed to lure productions away from Hollywood and into new territories—shows no signs of abating, with new players still emerging to challenge for a piece of the entertainment industry.

In the last few years, tax credit programs have been the favored tool for new production centers to grow and bring Hollywood to their hometowns. New York, for instance, has one of the richest incentive programs in the country, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week proposed extending the Empire State’s $420-million annual tax credit program for five more years in his new budget.

Other states are following suit. In North Carolina, which has recently played host to features such as the “Hunger Games” and series including Showtime’s “Homeland,” lawmakers are pushing to eliminate the Jan. 2015 “sunset clause” on the state’s film production tax credits in order to make them permanent.

And in California’s northern backyard, Oregon is looking at doubling its modest tax credit program to $12 million. That money, combined with the state’s accessible location and talented crews, could lead to a serious jump in the number of productions calling Oregon home.

“I think this is going to be our busiest year yet as long as the budget [with the incentive increase] goes through,” said Lana Veenker, president of Portland-based Cast Iron Studios.

And that presents Los Angeles-based actors with an important question: Is it worthwhile to move to a burgeoning regional market instead?

Veenker, a casting director who relocated to Portland after launching her career in London, says yes, albeit with a caveat.

“It depends on the actor,” Veenker, who casts NBC’s “Grimm” and worked on TNT's “Leverage,” told Backstage. “There are some categories that we’re slim in. Specifically diversity is very tough in the Northwest.” She noted that strong Asian, Latino, and African-American performers can be especially hard to find. “We’re on the hunt and it’s not easy,” she said.

Veenker typically casts co-star or guest-star roles for the series she works on. For “Leverage,” the producers only flew up an average of one to two actors per episode over four seasons. “Grimm,” meanwhile, budgets for three L.A. actors per episode. “We are sometimes casting up to 20 speaking parts locally,” she said, so there are opportunities for the journeyman performer in a regional market like Portland.

Actors with stunt experience are also prized in regional markets.

“Strong actors who can do stunts, and strong stunt performers who are strong actors, it’s hard to find both,” Veenker said.

Portland’s popularity has grown recently as series such as IFC’s “Portlandia,” which is shot there, have parodied the local arts scene. But the city’s counterculture can also work in actors’ favor.

“In a place like Oregon and maybe Portland specifically, the independent film scene is through the roof,” Veenker said. “I’ve seen actors produce, direct, and act in their own projects and go on and be successful at film festivals.”

Still, reversing the well-trodden regional-market-to-Hollywood path isn’t a good idea unless a performer’s credits make them stand out.

“I wouldn’t say every actor who’s struggling in L.A. is going to make it in Portland,” said Veenker. “Every market has its fair share of mediocre actors. We don’t need more.”

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