Ed Driscoll

'Hollywood, Babble On'

“Mayor Garcetti does not know how to save the L.A. economy,” Kevin D. Williamson writes at NRO (love the title, by the way). Garcetti’s futile efforts to stem the tide of film and television productions abandoning California for other states, and Canada, which offer tax incentives and less punitive, rapacious governments, are a symptom of much larger problem:

If politicians could simply create a set of policies that would bring desired businesses to their jurisdictions, they would do so. Everybody wants movies and high-tech companies, and everybody with good sense wants factories, warehouses, and energy producers, too. But politicians cannot do that. As California has shown, they cannot even design policies to preserve what they already have. From the Reagan years to the present, there has been no progress on that front, even when there was a Hollywood man in the governor’s office.

Economic conditions and markets will always change more quickly than public policy can account for. The question for Mr. Garcetti and for the ladies and gentlemen in Sacramento is not how to keep the movies and television shows in California but how to make California an attractive place to do business of any sort. That begins with admitting to themselves that if Silicon Valley and Hollywood weren’t already in California, nobody in their right mind would move them there. California’s fiscal instability, its rapacious unions, its enterprise-deadening public sector, and its recent experiments with ex post facto taxation all must give pause to investors, as must the plainly unsustainable finances of the state as a whole and the city of Los Angeles in particular. A film czar isn’t going to turn that around, and California doesn’t have enough money to bribe its marquee industry into staying put. Saving California means deep and wide top-to-bottom reform, which means dispatching a whole herd of sacred cows to the slaughterhouse. If Eric Garcetti is the man for that job, he has never given any indication of the fact. The fact that he’s still thinking in terms of czars and chickenfeed incentives suggests that he is miles away from understanding the nature of the problem.

Robert Conquest’s First Law of Politics posits that “Everyone is conservative about what he knows best,” and Hollywood is no different. Last night, I watched the Blu-Ray of Black Rain, starring Michael Douglas, and directed by Ridley Scott. Released in 1989, in-between Michael Keaton’s Gung Ho and Sean Connery’s Rising Sun, the film is the second in Hollywood’s unofficial late-’80s and early-’90s trilogy of films warning American audiences that Japan was about to supplant America as a world superpower, because of its powerful, all-knowing government, intertwined corporatist business environment, and collectivist thinking. “Perhaps you should think less of yourself and more of your group; try to work like in Japanese,” the local police liaison in Tokyo sagely advises Douglas’s cliched rogue cop in the film.

Meanwhile in reality, on the disc’s making-of featurette, Ridley Scott and producer Sherry Lansing discuss how they had to ultimately abandon Japan as a filming location, because the rigid local government in each city the crew filmed in required Kafkaesque massive amounts of paperwork, demanded to know where every light would be placed, and wouldn’t permit even a half hour of overtime shooting. “When the crew ran a few minutes over filming at a location in Japan, they were not only told to leave, a man physically walked in front of the camera and forbade them from continuing filming,” IMDB notes, which Lansing also mentioned on the disc. The film’s final act, involving a shootout and motorcycle chase ostensibly within a foggy Japanese farm, ended up being shot at a heavily disguised Napa Valley winery back in California.

“The high cost and red tape involved in filming in Japan prompted director Scott to declare that he would never film in that country again,” according to Wikipedia, which may even be right on this one. Thus, even before the film was complete, its producers were learning why it was unlikely that Japanese world domination was going to happen anytime soon, unlike the subtext of the film. And having learned this lesson in freedom and how a stifling government tramples entrepreneurship and creativity, every “above the line” member of the film’s production team and most of its stars went on to enthusiastically vote for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, to trample your freedom.

Which brings us full circle:

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Oh, and by the way — repeal the Hollywood tax cuts!