Wake Up and Smell the Money

by Vicki Mayer, author of Almost Hollywood, Nearly New Orleans: The Lure of the Local Film Economy

Probably no one in media studies loves tax policy. Or economic multiplier equations. Or state budget battles. I know that was not my own hook into becoming a doctor of all things fun and entertaining. And yet these things matter more than ever.

For media fans, tax breaks and other incentives are the tinder for what ignites Hollywood media production, and what sets many corporations, developers, economic policy wonks, and speculators on fire. Dedicated public money for a multi-million-dollar film shoot means less risk for studios and Wall Street investors who raise the financing. Public coffers for media infrastructure flip property values and attract schemers to house and entertain the industry’s mobile workforces. In the most ‘successful’ sites outside of Southern California, Hollywood production stokes the hopes for permanent jobs and stable redevelopment; all the while fueling a shadow economy of tradable tax credits and venture capital bubbles.

For myself, though, the language of multipliers became material, more visceral, when I couldn’t park within a block of my own doorstep because there was film crew who had rented my street for a week. I had an infant and groceries. It was summer hot. Everyone and everything was melting while I passed the trailers and catering. Nothing pisses a new mom off like parking. At least, that moment made me think: Who can own the street? How and how much does it cost?

It didn’t take long digging around production spaces that I realized that ‘no parking’ is the burden of only those privileged enough to own space, or even a car for that matter, in a place media producers find desirable and city governments find bankable. This opaque economy of public money for private incentivizing meant borrowing the budgets dedicated to education, health, and social services. Film students, for example, unknowingly traded in increased fees and debts in exchange for the promise they might work their way up a narrow and precarious ladder to full-time work. Unemployed creative workers have found themselves caught between precious few well-paid gigs, explosive rental prices, and the tatters of a safety net for check-ups. After 15 years of seeding Hollywood South, Louisiana is still one of the poorest and most unequal states in the U.S.

So next time we praise the series made in Atlanta, or Austin, or Albuquerque, it might be time for media studies to pay attention to who really got paid for that production, and if they get their money’s worth.


Vicki Mayer is Professor of Communication at Tulane University. She is coeditor of the journal Television & New Media and author or editor of several books and journal articles about media production, creative industries, and cultural work.

A free ebook version of Vicki’s new book, Almost Hollywood, Nearly New Orleans, is available through Luminos, University of California Press’s Open Access publishing program. Download a copy now.

You can also follow her on Academia.edu.

 

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