Annette Bening, Al Pacino, Ed Harris and several other celebrities helped power a surge in feature film shoots on the streets of Los Angeles last month, but film industry officials were hardly star struck.
Thanks to a flurry of low-budget celebrity-packed pictures, location shoots jumped 74% in April over last year, continuing double-digital gains from the first quarter of the year, according to data from FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and county.
But the welcome news was tempered by the fact that most were features costing less than $20 million that don’t pack the same economic punch as big studio movies that mostly film in Louisiana, Georgia and other states with richer incentives.
California offers a credit of up to 25% of qualified production expenses, but the credit applies only to movies with budgets lower than $75 million.
What’s more, feature film activity, while up by double digits this year, remains a fraction of what it was during its peak more than a decade ago. And in a development that is more worrisome for Los Angeles, location filming for television shows — long a key driver of economic activity in the entertainment sector — continued to decline.
Production days for television shoots dropped 17% in April, after a 9% falloff in the first quarter, a trend that industry officials attributed to competition from states like New York, which hosted more than a dozen pilots this year. New York allocates $420 million annually to TV and movie production — four times as much as California.
“It’s a continuation of a trend we’ve seen for a long time," said FilmL.A. Inc. President Paul Audley. “The truth is California has put its toe in the water but really hasn’t become fully competitive to bring back the large features and TV dramas that produce the most spending and the most number of jobs for Californians.”
Audley said the California Legislature’s decision last year to extend the state tax credit by only one year instead of five sent the wrong message to the industry. A bill to extend the program five more years will be taken up by lawmakers this month.
“We need to see them make a true commitment to the industry," Audley said of the state lawmakers. “New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg routinely brags about how much business New York is taking from California.”
Although limited in scope, California’s program is having some effect in spurring local filming. Two of three new feature films that began filming in L.A. last month — the Lakeshore Entertainment comedy “Stand Up Guys” and the independently produced “The Look of Love” — each received approval for a state film credit.
“Stand Up Guys,” which stars Pacino and Christopher Walken in a story about aging con men, received approval for a $2.4 million credit, according to the California Film Commission.
“The Look of Love," a romantic comedy with Bening, Harris and Robin Williams, received an $800,000 credit. The production, which began its 26-day-shoot early last month, has filmed in multiple locations, including Mar Vista, La Canada Flintridge, Bergamot Station in Santa Monica and Aliso Beach in Orange County.
The crew will film in Venice this week, said Mike Fantasia, a veteran location manager who has worked on big-budget movies such as “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and “Green Hornet.”
“The movie is set here so it would have been hard to film anywhere else," said Fantasia, mulling offers to work on films in North Carolina and Florida. “It’s great to be working at home.... All the big boys are filming out of town.”
Photo: Al Pacino, seen holding an Emmy Award in 2010, is starring in a "Stand Up Guys," a movie filming in Los Angeles. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.