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Early signs of brighter picture for local production in 2010

January 19, 2010 | 10:00 am

Lessgloomy The picture couldn't have been bleaker for on-location film and TV shoots in L.A. last year, what with the sharpest decline in overall production since tracking began back in 1993.

But while the grim outlook isn't likely to change any time soon, there are early indications that at least 2010 won't be as bad.

Glimmers of hope emerged from the latest batch of data from FilmL.A. Inc., the group that handles film permits for the city and most unincorporated areas of the county.

Overall production days (defined as crew's permission to film a single project at a single location over a 24-hour period) rose 13% last week compared with the same period a year ago. And, more significantly, for the first time in more than six months, the increase occurred across all major production categories: film, TV and commercials.

Commercials, which strongly rebounded in the second half of last year as the economy showed signs of improving, led the way with a 23% year-over-year gain last week.

Feature-film production, which took a nose dive last year as studios scaled back the number of movies they released and crews fled to cheaper destinations, rose 16%, continuing a rebound in the fourth quarter of last year after California's new film tax credit program began to kick in.

Among the new features filming locally is "Burlesque," a drama distributed by Sony's Screen Gems starring singers Cher and Christina Aguilera, and "Cedar Rapids," a comedy from Fox Searchlight starring Sigourney Weaver and Anne Heche.

Also, L.A.'s largest sector -- television -- may be stabilizing after plummeting more than 30% in the fourth quarter of 2009, when networks cut programming budgets and saved costs by shooting more on soundstages rather than on location. TV shoots for such shows as "NCIS," "The Office" and  "24"  climbed 6% last week, after a 98% jump in the week ended Jan. 10.

Although it's too early to say how long the upswing will continue, film-industry officials are encouraged, albeit with a dose of caution.

"We hope this is an indication of an improved climate,'' FilmL.A. spokesman Todd Lindgren said. "There seems to be some optimism in 2010 that an improved economy, coupled with the state incentives, will start to lift the production numbers and that each category will see a benefit."

-- Richard Verrier


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