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Filmdom Weathers El Nino

Entertainment Industry Bucks Expectations by Posting Solid February

March 11, 1998|DON LEE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Led by a surge in television and music video work, entertainment production in Los Angeles County rebounded strongly last month, posting its best February ever despite the El Nino storms, the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. says.

The upbeat report, being released today by the agency that issues permits, comes as welcome news following sluggish production in January and indications from the state that the long boom in motion pictures employment might be over.

Earlier this month, the state Employment Development Department said that the county's employment in the core movie production sector closed out 1997 at 140,600 jobs--down 0.5% from the end of 1996. Economists, however, have long complained that the state's methodology fails to capture the many freelance workers and others who hop from one film project to another.

Even so, after years of gangbuster employment growth, the state's motion pictures data clearly show a stall in hiring since early last summer that has apparently continued into this year.

"It definitely has flattened out," says James Gikas, an economist at Recon Research Corp. in Los Angeles. But like other economists, Gikas thinks the industry remains healthy. Although employment is flat, weekly pay for film production workers has been growing nicely, averaging $1,346 in December, up 8% from a year earlier, according to the latest state data.

The new report by EIDC injected more confidence in the industry. It showed that last month, crews in Los Angeles County spent 4,416 production days filming movies, TV shows, commercials, music videos and other entertainment work. That was up 4% from February 1997. For all of 1997, entertainment production days totaled 47,669--up 8% from 1996.

Production days for feature films--the biggest single component in the group--declined 5% last year and continued to lag in early 1998. But weakness there lately has been offset by gains in the production days of music videos, commercials, television and student works.

Cody Cluff, EIDC's president, says television production is growing thanks to expansion in satellite, cable and network television, and that in turn is driving work in commercials. As for feature films, Cluff thinks activity will pick up in the coming months.

"A number of studios have had delays in getting films out," he said, largely because of script-writing delays. "But based on what we see lined up, we expect a big summer."

Deposit Outflow: As a patriotic gesture, some Korean American banks in Los Angeles late last year urged customers to wire money to their families and relatives in South Korea. But now, some of these banks may be saying, "Enough is enough."

That's because so many Korean Americans have responded by reaching into their savings accounts, a kind of deposit runoff has hurt community banks like Hanmi Bank in Koreatown.

Hanmi encouraged Korean Americans to send money abroad by waiving its wire-transfer fee. But after seeing a $20-million drop in deposits over the last few months, Hanmi has reinstated the $15 wire fee and started an internal campaign to rebuild deposits.

Yi-Yong Oh, head of Hanmi's international department, says the bank's not in any financial trouble. Still, he says the recent surge of withdrawals reduced the bank's deposits by about 5%. "That's not small," he says.

Don Lee can be reached by e-mail at don.lee@latimes.com

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Entertainment Production

Production days in Los Angeles County:

*--*

Feb. '97 Feb '98 % Ch. Feature films 1,068 971 -9% Commercials 837 802 -4 Television 901 989 +10 Music 149 186 +25 Photo 469 361 -23 Student 450 599 +33 Miscellaneous 360 508 +41 Total 4,234 4,416

*--*

Note: Miscellaneous includes training videos, public service and adult film.

Source: Entertainment Industry Development Corp.

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