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On-location film production in L.A. barely rises in the third quarter

October 12, 2010 | 12:41 pm

Third quarter On-location filming in Los Angeles was flat in the third quarter, remaining virtually unchanged from the same period a year ago.

The slowdown was widely anticipated and largely blamed on the waning effect of the state's film tax credits on local production.

Following a 16% jump in activity in the second quarter, on-location production rose just 0.3%  during the three months ended Sept. 30, according to data released by FilmL.A., the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.

Notably, after staging a recovery from a steep downturn last year, on-location filming for features dropped 7% in the third quarter. FilmL.A. officials pointed to the fact that state film tax credits were no longer available to fuel production like they did earlier this year. Activity is measured by production days, with one day representing a crew's permission to film at a single location during a 24-hour period.

The California Film Commission allocated all of the available tax credit funds for the current fiscal year in June and now has a waiting list of projects. The program provides a 20% to 25% tax credit on qualified production expenses that can be applied to offset state income or sales tax liabilities.

The commission this year awarded $100 million in credits to 30 projects, many of them feature films that are set to film in L.A., such as the Columbia Pictures comedy "Jack and Jill" starring Adam Sandler. That compares with 77 projects that received credit approvals last year, when the commission took advantage of a provision in the state law that allowed it to allocate two years' worth of funding in the first year of the program. The state set aside $500 million in funding through 2014, with $200 million remaining.

"Our last quarterly report showed the undeniable success of the state program in putting film crews to work locally -- thereby buoying the feature category's numbers,'' FilmL.A. President Paul Audley said in a statement. "With the reduction in available incentive funds, we expected to see a decline in feature production this quarter. We hope the state will recognize the program's ability to create jobs and will give the program renewed funding and life beyond its pending expiry."

Television production saw a third-quarter decline of 8%, with TV dramas dropping a steep 33% while reality TV rose 24 %, TV sitcoms gained 49 % and TV pilots dropped 54%.  

FilmL.A. attributed part of the falloff in TV production to the fact that TV studios are shaving costs by filming more on sound stages rather than on location and a feared walkout by Teamsters drivers (which never occured). "We've been told by our industry customers that the drama category's numbers may have been affected by shows being kept on sound stages as a precautionary measure ahead of a potential work stoppage by Teamsters."

Additionally, L.A. has also lost several shows that relied heavily on local on-location filming, including "Heroes" and the long-running Fox drama "24."

TV commercial production continued to show rapid growth as advertisers spent more on local shoots. Although not covered under the state's tax incentive program, commercial production rose 22% in the quarter.

 -- Richard Verrier

Photo: A film crew sets up lights and cameras for shooting the second episode and finishing the pilot for the television series "Franklin & Bash" on the lawn of Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday, October 5, 2010. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times.