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So if a meeting happens in secret, has it really happened at all? That’s the question in front of us at Union Roundup. And no, we’re not talking about the price-fixing energy confabs of Dick Cheney, or the “what did he know, and when did he know it?” pre-9/11 intelligence briefings of exit-poll defying George Bush.This is actually far less, well, sinister, and involves far more personable folks. But it does involve secrets. Here’s the deal: Below the Line was tipped off about a hush-hush meeting held a few weeks back at the Paramount lot, involving reps from Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez’s office, and various guild heads, mostly IA, who were trying to work out what they might want in putative legislation designed to keep production jobs here in California.Now, why such a thing would need to be kept secret and why certain guild reps/union heads were not invited—like IA Local 80, the grips, no less!—when their peers were, remains a bit of mystery. Was this going to lead to some furtive strike-in-the-night piece of legislation, like the “Patriot” Act, that wouldn’t actually stand up to close scrutiny?(We grant the use of rather extreme analogies, dear readers, but the deliberate murkiness of the political process here has fascinated us for days…)The legislation involved would appear to be Assembly Bill 777, touted as a play by Nunez to legislate remedies for keeping as much production as possible smack dab in the Golden State. Indeed, Nick Velasquez, the deputy director of communications for Nunez’ office, was good enough to get back to us, and talk—in a general, affable way—about what was afoot.Nunez, he said, was “interested in working with the Governor in this session”—that’d be the certain stogie-smoking SAG member who divides his time between Pacific Palisades and Sacramento—in what he described as a “fluid process” for marking up, and pinning down, just what AB 777 was supposed to be.In fact, the bill—introduced on February 18, was described by Velasquez as a “spot bill,” meaning, more or less, that the introduction was mostly to hold a—yes—spot for the legislation, while details got worked out.Were those the details chewed over at the “Paramount summit?”Velasquez even got back to BTL in follow-up mode to later confirm that said meeting did take place. “The meeting was productive,” he told us, via email, and “the Speaker appreciated hearing about the effects runaway film production has had on California workers and is committed to looking at ways to keep production in the state.”Okay, so maybe the secrecy was to keep the conglomerates at bay a little bit, so the bill couldn’t be watered down too much? But then, why hold said meeting in digs owned by Viacom?But the bill, Velasquez told us, “signals an intent” to address the problem. Well and good, but since that initial conversation, many of the details of AB 777 have been posted online—California government, unlike the Federal variety, still being somewhat open—and here’s what we find out:“This bill would require the California Film Commission, in collaboration with the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and the Franchise Tax Board, to conduct a statewide analysis, covering 1995 to 2005, of the impact of runaway production on the California film industry. The bill would require the analysis to be completed utilizing existing data and within existing resources and would require the commission to submit a report on the analysis to the Legislature by March 1, 2006.”As this is the version of the bill being passed out of various committees as we speak, and heading to the floor, it seems this is what the legislature will be voting on, and what the governor will presumably sign.Requiring a study. Well.And here’s some language that was struck from the bill:“This bill would express the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation to discourage the practice of producing and filming motion pictures outside the state.”So AB 777 then, wouldn’t even necessarily require the legislature to come up with any actual legislative remedies, but instead, wait for the study to get done next spring. So the “legislative process” really, becomes how the study is shaped, and what the film commission does—or doesn’t do—in terms of gathering information.Shape the final study, in other words, and you shape whatever legislation might emerge as a result. Come up with a study saying all is hunky dory, and voila!, no legislation.So, to paraphrase Casablanca—which we seem to be doing with more frequency in UR—we “wait, and wait, and wait.”More immediately, however, LA will be having its final go-round in the mayor’s race, and the IA, in the guise of Tom Short, has endorsed former Assembly Speaker, current city councilman, and good Nunez pal Antonio Villaraigosa for the city’s top spot.Nothing wrong with that. Heck, if UR made endorsements in the mayor’s race—which will be concluded by the time our next column runs—we’d say the same thing. And in his official statement of thanks when appearing with Short, Villaraigosa said “Film, television, and theatre production are the bread and butter of LA’s economy. It is time we had a mayor who understands that and who is willing to fight to keep the entertainment industry here in LA.”How Villaraigosa plans to do that, however, when his former cohorts in the Assembly are spending a year mustering up only another study, remains to be seen. Perhaps the next secret meeting at the Paramount lot will produce more concrete ideas.

Written by Mark London Williams

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