My husband returns home next week after living in Atlanta for six months. We moved to Los Angeles 17 years ago because it’s the entertainment capital of the world, and he worked steadily in television here for a decade and a half. But like for many Hollywood workers and their families, job opportunities in film and TV production can increasingly be found out-of-state, and last season and this season he spent half the year in Georgia.
Even if workers are willing and able to migrate across the country, how do such moves affect their earnings? According to American City Business Journals’ analysis of raw data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, film and television workers in certain jobs are better off staying in Los Angeles: They make more money, and their dollars go further.
The trend in runaway production appears to be reversing with the expansion of the California Film & Television Tax Credit this year. The program boosted TV production in Los Angeles this season, and the state of California led film production in 2014 after ranking fourth among locations the year before.
Still, the reality for many film and TV workers is that incentives programs are luring production out of state, with New York, Georgia and Louisiana — the three most popular locations in the United States after California — offering tax credits of up to 30 percent.
For my husband, that meant that his latest gig in post-production landed him in an apartment near Midtown Atlanta. He works with film editors, a job with an average annual salary of $104,320 in Los Angeles — almost 39 percent more than the national average of $75,090. In New York, film and video editors make $74,590, a smidge less than the national average. And in Atlanta, they average $52,300 — half of an Angeleno editor’s pay and more than 30 percent less than the national average.
Well, sure, but it costs less to live in Atlanta, one might argue. Taking into consideration the cost of living, Los Angeles film and video editors earn $88,260 annually — still more than in New York, where adjusted pay is $61,040. Atlanta’s adjusted pay increases to $54,710 but still fails to compete with Hollywood salary levels.
A similar pattern emerges for other key production jobs as well. In Los Angeles, producers and directors make an average $133,540 — nearly 48 percent more than the national average of $90,300 — while they earn $114,220 in New York, $81,300 in New Orleans, and $63,490 (less than half) in Atlanta. Factor in cost of living, and Angelenos’ annual salary decreases but still leads the category with $112,980, compared to $93,470 in New York, $84,070 in New Orleans, and $66,410 in Atlanta.
And makeup artists make $72,850 in Los Angeles — up nearly 20 percent from the national average of $60,830 — compared to $68,620 in New York. The gap between the two markets widens slightly with adjusted pay of $61,630 in Los Angeles and $56,150 in New York.
Los Angeles is not the highest-paying market for all film and TV jobs, however. Camera operators make more in New York ($77,670 vs. $67,530), as do sound engineers ($70,870 vs. $67,210). The difference between their salaries does narrow, though, when cost of living is taken into account, with New York camera operators averaging $63,560 compared to $57,130 in L.A., and sound engineers making nearly the same: $57,990 in New York compared to $56,860 in Los Angeles.
On the other end of the spectrum, a movie theater projectionist — which was my husband’s very first job in entertainment — makes $29,700 in New York and $25,190 in Los Angeles compared to the national average of $23,260. New York projectionists still beat the national average when cost of living is factored in with $24,300, but Hollywood projectionists fall below the average with $21,310.