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Boom in Web shows boosts L.A. production

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August 21, 2012|By Richard Verrier
  • Videographer Blair Madigan, left, director James Tooley and sound recordist Michel Tyabji discuss a scene on the beach as FishBowl Worldwide Media shoots Yahoo's "Ultimate Surprises," a Web series filming in Playa del Rey.
Videographer Blair Madigan, left, director James Tooley and sound recordist… (Ringo H.W. Chiu )

A young couple is about to celebrate their one-year anniversary, but the girlfriend doesn’t know it yet. When she shows up to see her boyfriend at work, under the guise that she’s going to be an extra on a film set, he surprises her with a marriage proposal. The couple then watch their own private fireworks show.

The scene, filmed recently on Dockweiler Beach in Playa del Rey, was for an upcoming episode for the third season of “Ultimate Surprises,’’ a Web series for Yahoo that has filmed in such locations as the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona, Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and Seabridge Park in Huntington Beach.

The show is part of a wave of low-budget digital productions shooting across Los Angeles County.

The production of digital series for the Internet and mobile devices has taken off in recent years as companies such as YouTube, Yahoo, AOL and Hulu invest millions of dollars in developing original programming for the Web. Most of the new digital shows are produced locally, often on streets rather than soundstages because it’s less costly.

“The growth of video consumption online is exploding, which is creating a growing demand in the marketplace for original online series,” said Bruce Gersh, president and chief executive of FishBowl Worldwide Media.

FishBowl produces “Ultimate Surprises,” which boasts more than 22 milllion views, and another Yahoo series called “Stunt Nation,” in which athletes re-create “cringe inducing stunts.” The latter recently filmed an episode in Venice’s famed Blu House.

Digital productions generated 1,116 production days in 2011, up from 386 in 2008. Through June, digital shows accounted for 704 production days, with one day representing a crew’s permission to film a project at a single location in a 24-hour period, according to FilmL.A. Inc., which handles film permits for the city and the county.

The Web series, which usually run three to five minutes, range from reality shows to sports programs and full-blown scripted series with name actors, such as the locally produced the series “Blue,” a drama about a mother with a secret life, starring film and TV actress Julia Stiles, for the YouTube network WIGS.

Online shows are typically low-budget, costing from $20,000 to $50,000 per episode to produce, with small crews working at low pay compared to a conventional TV series or film.

Nonetheless, digital productions provide welcome employment to local film crews that have struggled from the migration of film and TV work to other states.

“Most of our crews are between regular film and TV jobs,’’ said David Beebe, FishBowl’s digital studio vice president and general manager. “It’s a great opportunity to keep people working.”

FishBowl is just one of several companies filming locally. The Yomyomf Network on YouTube has some 50 projects in production or development. They include a series called “The Book Club,” about a book club in which the stories come to life that recently filmed in South Pasadena and a sci-fi program called “Drone,” which shot in Hollywood Hills and near LAX.

“Ninety percent of our programming is filmed locally,’’ said Phil Chung, creative director for Yomyomf Network. “We’re basically shooting everywhere.”

BBC Worldwide Productions is co-producing with Los Angeles-based Break Media a series entitled “Behind the Lights: the Coolest Jobs Behind the Biggest Sports,” a weekly series airing on MadeMan.com that explores  behind-the-scenes jobs in sports.

One episode that recently filmed at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks featured the captain of the U.S. men’s Olympic water polo team. Another show profiled a training school for NHL referees and was shot at the Los Angeles Kings training facility in El Segundo. Such projects are ways to test new material that may spawn TV shows, said Dan Tischler, vice president for digital content at BBC World Wide Productions.

“It’s like a perfect testing bed for trying out new concepts for TV shows,’’ he said.

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