Entertainment Industry

Category: commercial production

Voice-over actors muted by celebrities

Click here to play the celebrity voice-over quiz.
Tom Kane is no fan of Mercedes-Benz.

It's not the car that he has a problem with, it's that the company uses "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm as the voice of its radio and television commercials.

"Even if it is a terrific spot -- which it isn't -- people don't have a clue who that is," said Kane, a professional voice actor for two decades.

Unfortunately for Kane and other voice actors, more and more movie and television stars are getting into this line of work too. Although there were always some big-name actors who did commercial voice-over work, many steered clear. That is no longer the case.

"Actors on every level want to do voice-over work," said Tim Curtis, an agent who specializes in celebrity endorsements for agency WME. "It's a fun thing for them to do, doesn't take much time and can be really lucrative."

Advertisers don't mind shelling out more because they think being associated with a star benefits their brand.

"It's kind of like paying a little more for a shirt," said Rob Schwartz, chief creative officer at Chiat/Day, whose clients include Nissan and Visa, whose ads feature the voices of Robert Downey Jr. and Morgan Freeman, respectively.

"Some are fabulous and some are pretty mediocre," said Keri Tombazian, a veteran voice actor of the celebrities who have gotten into the game. "The unfortunate thing for us is that career voice-over actors are not afforded the luxury of mediocrity."

For more on what the influx of celebrities has meant for everyday voice actors, please see the story in the Los Angeles Times.


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Celebs muffle the voice of experience

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Voice-over actress Keri Tombazian. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

Commercial shoots on streets of L.A. reach record level

Jiffy Lube Super Bowl commercialsOn a sunny Monday afternoon near the Port of Los Angeles, a man straddling a mechanic’s red toolbox is wheeling down a street, struggling to maintain his balance as he turns a corner.

A camera crew is filming the action as part of a shoot for oil change chain Jiffy Lube, one of at least a dozen commercials shot this week across Los Angeles County. Others include spots in downtown L.A. for Yoplait Yogurt and Jeep Cherokee, as well as North Hollywood for JC Penney.

Commercial shoots are surging in L.A., fueled by several factors, including an economic recovery, ads for the Super Bowl, the summer Olympics and political campaigns, and even a tax break offered by the city.

Location shoots for commercials in the L.A. area rose 8% in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier and climbed to the highest level on record last year -- generating 7,079 production days, according to FilmL.A. Inc, which handles film permits for the city and county of Los Angeles.

While they don’t get as much attention as movies and television shows, commercials have become an increasingly important contributor to L.A.’s entertainment economy. In fact, since 2009, commercials have accounted for more location filming than feature films, which have been harder hit by runaway production.

Although movies and TV shows employ larger crews, commercials still pack an economic punch: filming a 30-second spot for broadcast TV can employ 40 crew members and carry a budget of $100,000 to $400,000.

Commercial production is up nationwide in part because the overall economy is improving, industry analysts say. The recession caused a sharp falloff in advertising spending in 2008 and 2009, but big brands including auto companies such as Chrysler to consumer electronic firms such as Apple have been setting aside more advertising dollars to market their products as consumer spending grows.

“There are several things coming into play but one of them definitely is the rebounding economy,’’ said Matt Miller, president of the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers, a trade group with 178 members in Southern California. “Overall, it’s been a pretty good year throughout the industry.”

Sponsors of the 2012 Olympic Games in London already have begun stockpiling commercials as part of their marketing campaigns, generating more business for local producers in the fourth quarter, who also benefited from Super Bowl ads, Miller said. The National Football League recently signed record-setting television rights deals with Fox, NBC and CBS, which are eager to capitalize on huge ratings for the games.

Another factor behind the commercial production upswing is the proliferation of digital media, which has created more demand for ads that can be run across multiple platforms -- on websites such as Hulu, iPads and smartphones.

“A lot of brands are trying any way they can to capture potential customers,’’ said Jerry Solomon, managing partner for Epoch Films, which has produced commercials for AT&T, Audi and Apple. “It’s not just TV anymore.”

Production companies that shoot commercials in Los Angeles also got a boost last year after the City Council reduced the taxes they pay for doing business in the city. L.A. raised the threshold at which producers pay business taxes, lowering their tax burden by as much as $3,400 annually.

Despite the city’s tax break, producers say they face growing pressure to consider shooting spots in other locales that offer more favorable tax credits because California’s film tax credit excludes commercials. L.A.’s share of overall commercial production worldwide was 51% in 2010, down from 54% in 2007, reflecting growing competition from states such as New York and Illinois, according to the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers. During the same period, New York’s market share has grown to 15% from 12%.

And while local producers may be busier, they’re not necessarily making more money since they face more pressure to cut budgets and turn around projects more quickly.

“We use to get two days to shoot one 30-second spot. Now, we’re shooting one 30-second spot in a day,’’ said Rick Fishbein, special projects producer for Santa Monica-based Green Dot Films. “We’re working harder to reach the same bottom line that we had a decade ago.”


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-- Richard Verrier

Photo: A Jiffy Lube commercial is shot by production company Morton Jankel Zander near the Port of San Pedro. Credit: Arkasha Stevenson/Los Angeles Times

Where the cameras roll
Sample of neighborhoods with permitted TV, film and commercial shoots scheduled this week. Permits are subject to last-minute changes. Sources: FilmL.A. Inc., cities of Beverly Hills, Santa Clarita and Pasadena. Thomas Suh Lauder / Los Angeles Times

On-location filming in L.A. continues to recover from production slump

commercial productionfilm productionfilm tax creditsmovestelevision

Second quarter Spurred by a recovery in the economy and the state's fledgling film tax credit program, filming on the streets of Los Angeles surged 16% in the second quarter of the year.

FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit group that handles permits for the city and much of L.A. County, released a report Tuesday that shows across-the-board gains for on-location filming of movies, commercials and TV shows in the three months ending June 30.

L.A. generated 11,134 production days in the quarter, up from 9,597 in same period in 2009, according to FilmL.A. One production day is defined as one crew's permission to film a project at a single location over a 24-hour period. 

The data provide further evidence that Los Angeles is continuing to recover from the devastating slump in local production caused by the recession and the flight of movies and TV shows to other states and countries. On-location filming posted its biggest decline on record in 2009. But activity rebounded in the first quarter with an 18% increase in production activity.

California enacted its first film tax credit program last year to keep production from leaving. There is some evidence that the program, which offers filmmakers up to 25% credit on production expenses, is having a positive effect. On-location feature filming expanded 12% in the second quarter.

A quarter of that activity was led by 16 productions that received the state incentive, including the Steve Carell comedy "Dinner for Schmucks," the Dwayne Johnson action film "Faster," and "Bad Teacher," the Columbia Pictures film starring Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz.

"The state incentive continues to bolster local film production and employment," said FilmL.A. President Paul Audley.

One category that is not covered under the state's tax incentive program is commercials, but the sector has nonetheless been enjoying strong growth as advertisers like Chevron, Ford and AT&T show more willingness to spend money on film shoots as the economy shows signs of recovering. On-location commercial filming soared 35% in the second quarter.

Television production grew just 1.4%, reflecting a sharp falloff in dramatic programming and the canceling of locally filmed shows including "Heroes" and "Numb3rs" as well as the winding down of the long-running Fox TV drama "24." While filming of TV dramas fell 38%, reality TV programming posted a whopping 48% gain in production days compared with the same period in 2009.

But early signs, including a strong pilot season, suggest that TV dramas will fare much better in the second half of the year.

"We've seen dozens of new reality shows begin filming in the area, but based upon our research, we expect a boost in local TV drama and sitcom work starting this month and continuing through the fall," Audley said.

-- Richard Verrier

On Location: Dutch director finds L.A. a fertile field

DutchSometimes it takes a foreigner to point out what the natives take for granted.

Just ask Hein Mevissen, director of commercials for John Doe Productions in Amsterdam.

Mevissen was hired by a Netherlands ad agency to direct a commercial for a Dutch horticultural association, De Nederlandse Tuinbouw, touting the global reach of Holland’s fruits and veggies. Apparently, Holland’s agriculture business has more to boast than just tulips.

But instead of filming the ad in northern Europe, where the commercial will be aired, Mevissen took a detour: He opted to film the bulk of the $500,000 commercial in the Los Angeles area.

Although the commercial’s star is a 40-foot beanstalk (the metaphor: Holland spreading its agricultural roots around the world) much of the commercial was shot with a California crew of about 40 people, along with 60 Los Angeles-area extras and English- and Dutch-speaking actors.

In one scene, producers converted Gigi’s Bakery and Cafe on West Temple Street into a Dutch cafe, selling healthy fruits instead of the greasy fried food typically found in Dutch snack bars. Downtown buildings were used to depict scenes set at a warehouse in Spain and a board meeting in South Korea that erupts into mayhem when the ubiquitous monster plant bursts up through their table. Even the sprawling Tejon Ranch 60 miles north of L.A. had a role, standing in for Tanzania in East Africa.

So why did Mevissen travel across the Atlantic and U.S. to film a Dutch commercial? After all, he might have saved money by shooting in Budapest, Hungary, or Hamburg, Germany, which are closer to Amsterdam and offer hefty tax breaks to boot. Although California has a new film incentive program, commercials aren’t covered by it.

The weak dollar, which makes filming here relatively cheaper, was a factor, Mevissen said. But so was the diversity of locations, good weather and experienced crews.

“I shot a few times in L.A., and it has the very best professionals here and the best crews in the world,” he said.

Nicholas Simon, the producer of the commercial, added: “Where else can you find the breadth of locations that you have here?”

Such testimonials are music to the ears of local film promoters, who are developing a plan to market the area's film industry. There has been an uptick in activity because the economy is improving and overall production is increasing, but the long-term trend has shown Los Angeles losing market share to other areas.

Southern California’s share of all commercial production fell to 48% in 2008 from 54% in 2007, with projects increasingly migrating to other states such as New Mexico, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, according to a recent report from the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers. Data for 2009 are not yet available.

For his part, Mevissen says he’s already planning to shoot his next commercial — his client won’t let him divulge what it is —  in Southern California.  “You can always go someplace cheaper, but I don’t think it’s always better,” he said. “When you shoot in L.A., everything goes really smooth.”

For Angelenos, such praise could only come from a foreigner.

-- Richard Verrier

Survey shows LA's share of commercial production pie is shrinking

Commercials The rebound in commercial filming in Los Angeles, fueled by a recovery in the national economy, the low dollar and a little help from the Super Bowl and the Vancouver Winter Olympics, continues apace: On-location filming activity soared 173% last week over the same week a year ago.

Nonetheless, a new report throws some cold water on the otherwise upbeat news, finding that Southern California’s slice of the commercial production pie is, in fact, shrinking.

Reflecting a similar trend in feature films and television, commercial work is increasingly flowing outside of California, to a host of other U.S. cities and states offering hefty incentives to lure producers, according to a report from the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers.

Among the report’s key findings is that Southern California’s share of all commercial production fell to 48% in 2008 compared with from 54% the year before — even as the percentage of commercials shot in the U.S. continued to grow.

In short, more commercial work is flowing to the U.S., but not necessarily back to California. Rather, it is being spread across smaller states including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Arizona, as well as major rivals such as New York, which saw its share of commercial production grow to 15% from 12%.

Matt Miller, president of the commercial producers association, said California is losing out to states that are picking up the business because they offer tax incentives and rebates that reduce costs to producers.

Although California adopted its first film tax-credit program last year, the credits do not apply to commercials, a sore point with Miller’s group. He , who notes that commercial production employs an estimated 10,000 people in the L.A. area and supports about 220 companies.

If the trend continues, Miller contends, the local companies that service the industry — equipment rental houses and production facilities — could move permanently to other states, inflicting long-term economic damage, he said.

“The loss of market share in Southern California will definitely have an ongoing effect on the health of the infrastructure that supports commercial production,” Miller said. “That’s the big concern.”

Although most commercial producers would like to shoot more locally, tighter budgets have forced them to seek out states that offer incentives.

“I try to shoot as much as I can in Southern California,” said Frank Scherma, president of Radical Media Inc., which is filming a commercial for Dentyne in Hollywood this week. But he adds: “There’s not a client that doesn’t get on the phone with me and ask if there’s a place they can get some sort of tax relief.”

Camille Taylor, executive producer and owner of Crossroads Films, just finished shooting a Pringles commercial in Buenos Aires and later this month plans to shoot a commercial for Samsung in Hawaii and Cape Town, South Africa, where costs can be as much as 40% lower than in California.

Though she’s filming a commercial in Long Beach for a drug company, such local shoots are relatively rare, Taylor adds. “If there were incentives,'' Taylor said, "you would try your best to make the numbers work to stay here.”

-Richard Verrier

L.A. continues rebound in commercial shoots

December commercials

L.A. film crews may have little to cheer about this holiday season, except for one thing: The improving economy continues to spur a recovery in commercial production.

On-location filming for commercials last week generated 213 production days (defined as a single crew's permission to work at a single location during a 24-hour period), up 9% over the same period a year ago.

In fact, commercial production has increased in six of the last seven weeks and rose about 30% over the same period in 2009, according to data from Film L.A. Inc, the nonprofit group that coordinates film permits.

The data provide the clearest evidence yet that the sector has shaken off the slump earlier this year, when advertisers - especially the Big Three automakers - severely curtailed spending in the wake of the deep recession.

Commercial production is a major source of employment in L.A., which is home to 170 commercial producers. Although the advertising industry is based in New York, most  commercials are filmed here.

This week, Toyota and Honda are both shooting commercials in L.A., joining other high-profile corporate names such as American Express, Wal-mart and Bud Light that have filmed locally in recent weeks.

-- Richard Verrier


On Location: Commercial producers revved up over GM's pay-later policies

Commercialchart General Motors may be slowly motoring back to life, but its new, stripped-down approach to business has rankled some of its vendors in Hollywood.

Although it is showing some signs of recovery, local commercial production has been in the doldrums for much of the year, thanks to the deep recession, which caused advertisers to sharply curtail their spending.

The woes of the U.S. auto industry, GM in particular, hit commercial producers hard. This is  especially true in Los Angeles, where about 40% of all commercials filmed are tied to carmakers. Although the advertising industry is based in New York, most commercials are filmed in L.A., which has about 170 commercial producers.

GM, which depended on a government bailout to stay afloat, has taken a number of steps to restructure its business since emerging from bankruptcy this summer.

But one of its belt-tightening practices -- requiring that vendors who supply advertising services accept deferred payment terms -- has drawn the ire of the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, a trade organization that represents 300 companies that produce commercials for advertisers and their agencies.

In a recent letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, the association's president, Matthew Miller, said the change was a reversal of industry practice and imposed an unfair financial burden on many small businesses that produce commercials, forcing them to take out costly loans to cover heavy upfront costs.

"Many have rightly said that 'GM is too big to fail,' which is why most Americans, though wary, were willing to back the administration's plan to save the American auto industry,'' Miller wrote in his Nov. 10 letter. "But now, as the majority owner of GM, it seems disingenuous that the government would condone or take part in the exploitation of small businesses. This is counterproductive to a successful GM, harmful to the tens of thousands employed in this industry, and sends a very poor message to business."

A Treasury Department spokesman declined to comment. A GM representative didn't return calls.

-- Richard Verrier

Commercial shoots rebound in LA

49681747 Here's a commercial break to be happy about.

Commercial filming on the streets of LA is on the upswing, which hopefully might mean there is a thaw in the nationwide economy as advertisers show more willingness to spend money.

On-location shoots for commercials increased for the third consecutive week, according to FilmL.A.Inc., which handles film permits. Commercial filming generated 102 production days last week (defined as a single crew's permission to film at a project at a single location during a 24-hour period), nearly double the level from the same time a year ago (see chart).

The recession has taken a toll on commercial production, causing major advertisers like the Big Three automakers to scale back their spending on ads, meaning fewer opportunities for commercial filmmakers. Notwithstanding the recent spike in filming, on-location filming for commercials is still down 21% compared to the same time a year ago, according to FilmL.A.

"There's definitely more momentum,'' said Brian Carmody, executive producer of Smuggler, a production company that  is filming a Nikon commercial this week with Ashton Kutcher in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

In addition to the Nikon shoot, Smuggler also is shooting commercials in the next week for Audi, AT&T, Kayak.com -- even the U.S. Postal Service.

To be sure, budgets are tighter than ever. Advertisers who previously might have been willing to spend $500,000 on a two-day shoot, may limit their budget to $400,000. But activity is definitely increasing, Carmody added.

"Advertisers are getting back on track,'' he said. "They are spending their way out of the recession."

-Richard Verrier


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Photos: L.A.’s busiest filming sites