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November 5, 2016

Could location filming help the homeless?

Google street view near Union Station (March 2015)
Last week I took the Gold Line to Union Station.  I was meeting a friend for lunch. Along the way, I passed hundreds of homeless people. It was heartbreaking.

We talked about it over lunch. He works in politics and sits in a few back rooms.

"Money would help these people a lot," he said. "There's a billion dollar housing bond on the ballot, and the Sups talked about taxing pot. Someone suggested the slogan, 'get high — help the homeless,' and that bonged the pot tax.   Too bad.  Could have been over $100 million.  Now they want to put a quarter-cent sales tax on the Spring ballot. Probably won't pass."

The conversation then drifted to the usual political shenanigans of the day, but the gears started turning.  A few days later, I got this whacky idea. Could the film rental tax loophole be tapped to help the homeless?

By definition the film rental loophole only applies to the rental of personal residences.  So, by the same definition, it's not anyone's job — it's additional income. Businesses would not be affected. Unlike the pot tax,  it would not encourage addiction and,  unlike a sales tax, a film rental levy is not a regressive tax.  Best yet, the whole enterprise could be folded into the existing work done by the Franchise Tax Board.  Administrative costs would be minimal.

OK... but would a film rental tax be generate enough to deserve serious consideration?

I wasted no time building a spreadsheet (old habits die hard).   Here's what I found:
  • There may be as many as 50,000 on-location shoot days in LA County each year.
  • There may be about 30,000 film rental days in LA County each year that fall under the film rental tax loophole.
  • There may be as much as $200 million in film rentals every year in LA County that fall under the rental tax loophole. 
  • A levy on film rentals at private residences in LA County might generation $10-$20 million in annual tax revenues for the homeless.
  • A 5-year program might generate $50-100M tax revenues to support efforts to help the homeless.
Those numbers were derived from the FilmLA quarterly reports, and FilmLA's Altadena permit data.  The details of the estimation steps appear below.

These numbers might not be worth the paper towel used to clean up after the cat. But the real data exists and a real estimate does not require magic.  Without a heroic effort, a legislative analyst could acquire actual detailed permit data from FilmLA (which they are contractually obligated to supply to the County on request) and the other county film permitting offices. They could also obtain average rental rates from expense reports of production companies or filings made under the tax credit program. That's all that's needed.

If the real numbers happened to look good, I've got a slogan. "Host a film the homeless."

References are provided at the bottom of the table

The slogan may stink, but helping the homeless doesn't

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