On-location filming jumps 15% in 2010, but L.A. still not out of the woods
But even with the increased activity, feature production remained less than half what it was in 1996, underscoring the long-term challenges L.A. faces as it struggles to keep movies and TV shows from leaving Southern California, according to data from FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and many unincorporated areas of the county.
FilmL.A. recorded 43,646 total production days in 2010, up 15% from 2009. A production day is defined as a single crew’s permission to film a project at a single location in a 24-hour period. Overall activity rose 26% in the fourth quarter over the same period in 2009.
Though the data do not track filming on major studio lots, it's viewed as a barometer of overall economic activity in L.A.’s entertainment sector, which employs more than 200,000 people.
The upswing signaled a continued recovery from the pummeling the sector took in 2009, when production posted its steepest annual drop on record as studios cut back the number of films they released, advertisers shot far fewer commercials and filmmakers took their business to other states that offered more attractive tax credits and rebates.
Leading the growth was commercial shoots, which saw a 28% increase in production days last year, the category’s largest year-over-year increase since tracking began in 1993. The year's total of 6,778 production days was the highest since commercial production reached its peak in 2005.
Though growth slowed in the fourth quarter, climbing only 2.5%, the year was marked by an increase in orders for spots by Chrysler, Verizon and AT&T and other advertisers amid signs of an improving economy.
On-location television shoots also mounted an impressive comeback, increasing 50% in the fourth quarter and 12% for the year for a total of 17,833 production days.
The gains were fueled by a continued growth in reality TV programming, which rose 47% with 7,341 production days, making it the single largest TV category; and sitcoms, which rose 78% for the year, including 227% in the fourth quarter.
TV comedies have been making a comeback, thanks to the popularity of such shows as ABC’s “Modern Family” and FX's "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," which are L.A.-based. New sitcoms shooting locally include MTV’s “The Hard Times of RJ Berger," Showtime’s “Shameless” and NBC’s “The Paul Reiser Show.”
However, TV dramas fell 19% for the year, reflecting the cancelling of such shows as Fox’s “24” and NBC's “Heroes.”
Feature films rose 8% for the year and 28% for the fourth quarter with the increases attributed to the state’s film tax credit program, which took effect in mid-2009. The program provides a 20% to 25% credit on qualified production expenses and can be used to offset state income or sale tax liabilities.
The state program attracted dozens of movies to L.A. last year, including the upcoming releases “Rampart,” “The Good Doctor," produced by and starring Orlando Bloom, and Walt Disney’s “The Muppets," with tax-incentive productions accounting for a quarter of all production days in the year.
Despite the improvement, the number of feature film production days in 2010 -- 5,378 -- was still down 62% from its peak in 1996, reflecting L.A.’s loss of market share, not only to foreign cities such as Vancouver and Toronto, but also to other U.S. locations, notably Detroit, New Orleans and New York.
In response to the migration, city officials and film promoters have been grappling with ways to keep filming at home, including recently launching a marketing campaign touting the industry’s economic benefits to the L.A. economy.
-- Richard Verrier
Photo: Ed O'Neill, left, Rico Rodriguez and Sofia Vergara in the L.A.-based "Modern Family." Credit: Adam Larkey / ABC
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