On Location: L.A. feature film production edges up in 2011 while TV dips
Overall, on-location filming in Los Angeles area rose 4% last year, as a rise in feature film production and commercial shoots offset a falloff in TV filming on streets and noncertified soundstages, according to data from FilmL.A. Inc., which handles film permits for the city and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.
The data are an important barometer of economic activity in Los Angeles County, which employs at least 100,000 people in film and TV production, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.
Feature film production generated 5,682 production days in 2011, up 6% over 2010. FilmL.A. officials attributed the swell in part to California's film tax credit, a program the state launched in 2009 to stem runaway production. Each year the state allocates $100 million to attract filmmakers to California locations. In July, the state set aside funds or about 30 new projects. The program gives filmmakers a tax credit of up to 25% of production dollars in certain areas. (Star salaries are not included, but salaries for crew members are.) Filmmakers can then apply the credit toward any sales or business-use tax liability they have with the state.
The high-profile features that were approved for state film tax credits last year included the Warner Bros. drama “Gangster Squad,” about an anti-Mafia unit of the Los Angeles Police Department during the 1940s and 1950s; "Argo," an Iranian caper starring and directed by Ben Affleck; and the Judd Apatow comedy "This is 40."
Still, feature production slowed significantly toward the end of the year, falling 26% in the fourth quarter, reflecting ongoing competition California faces from other states that offer more generous film incentives, such as Georgia and Louisiana. On-location feature film production last year was still 59% below its peak in 1996, according to FilmL.A. Inc.
Television activity also dropped 11% in the fourth quarter and was down 3% for the year, accounting for 17,349 production days, according to the survey. Fewer dramas are filming in Los Angeles -- production in the category fell 30% in the fourth quarter alone -- because of more competition from New York, which is having a record year for TV production.
A study released last year by FilmL.A. found that 87 pilots were produced in L.A. last season, up from 76 the prior season. But the region’s share of overall pilot production nationally has fallen to 51%, down from 82% six years ago. At the same time, New York more than doubled its share, to roughly 10% of all pilots, according to the study.
L.A. is home to dozens of TV dramas like "Franklin & Bash," "The Mentalist," "CSI: New York" and "Parenthood." But, in order to save money, such dramas are filming more days on studio lots rather than on location, further contributing to the decline in local TV shoots.
FilmL.A. President Paul Audley called the long-term fall in television production, long a mainstay of the entertainment economy, a disconcerting trend. "While we are relieved to see annual gains in overall production days, we cannot take any growth for granted,'' Audley said in a statement. "We must fight to keep and attract more feature films and high-value television series to keep our vendor companies and crews working and our region's economy afloat."
On location commercial filming for advertisers such as Wal-Mart, L'Oreal and Verizon remained a bright spot, rising 8% in the fourth quarter and 4% for the year for 7,079 production days - a new annual record for the region.
-- Richard Verrier
Photo: The Warner Bros. movie "Gangster Squad' filmed in front of City Hall last month. Vintage cars were lined up along Spring Street. Credit: AP Photo/Michael Robinson Chavez-Los Angeles Times.