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Filming in L.A. up 4% in 2011

A boost in movie production helps offset a decline in local TV shoots.

January 04, 2012|Richard Verrier
  • Television production activity in the L.A. area declined 3% in 2011 from a year earlier, FilmL.A. data showed. Above, a TV production crew prepares to move into a barn to shoot scenes as the FX show "Sons of Anarchy" films on location at Brandeis-Bardin Campus American Jewish University in Simi Valley in October.
Television production activity in the L.A. area declined 3% in 2011 from… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles lost more TV shoots last year to New York, but movie production and commercials more than made up the difference, helping to give the L.A. area a 4% increase in overall on-location filming for 2011.

The data -- released Tuesday by FilmL.A. Inc., which handles permits for the Los Angeles region -- are an important barometer of the area's economic activity. At least 100,000 people are employed in film and TV production, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

Feature film production generated 5,682 production days in 2011, up 6% compared with 2010. FilmL.A. officials attributed the jump in part to California's film tax credit, a program the state launched in 2009 to stem runaway production. Under the program, the state allocates $100 million each year to attract filmmakers to California locations.

In July, the state set aside funds for about 30 new projects for the current fiscal year. The program gives filmmakers a tax credit of up to 25% of certain production expenses. (Salaries for actors are not included, but salaries for crew members are.) Filmmakers can then apply the credit toward any sales or business-use tax liability they have with the state.

The high-profile features approved for tax credits last year included the Warner Bros. drama "Gangster Squad," about an anti-Mafia unit of the Los Angeles Police Department during the 1940s and 1950s; "Argo," an Iranian caper starring and directed by Ben Affleck; and the Judd Apatow comedy "This is 40."

Feature production slowed significantly toward the end of the year, falling 26% in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier, reflecting competition California faces from other states that offer more generous film incentives, such as Georgia and Louisiana. On-location feature film production last year was 59% below its 1996 peak, according to FilmL.A.

Television activity dropped 11% in the fourth quarter and declined 3% for the year, accounting for 17,349 production days, FilmL.A. data showed. Fewer dramas are filming in Los Angeles -- production in the category fell 30% in the fourth quarter alone -- because of more competition from New York, which had a record year for TV production in 2011.

A study released last year by FilmL.A. found that 87 pilots were produced in L.A. in the most recent season, up from 76 the prior season. But the region's share of overall pilot production nationally has fallen to 51%, down from 82% six years ago. During the same period, New York more than doubled its share, to roughly 10% of all pilots, according to the study.

L.A. is home to dozens of TV dramas including "Franklin & Bash," "The Mentalist," "CSI: New York" and "Parenthood." But to save money, such dramas are filming more days on studio lots rather than on location, further contributing to the decline in local TV shoots.

FilmL.A. President Paul Audley called the long-term fall in television production, long a mainstay of the entertainment economy, a disconcerting trend.

"While we are relieved to see annual gains in overall production days, we cannot take any growth for granted,'' Audley said in a statement. "We must fight to keep and attract more feature films and high-value television series to keep our vendor companies and crews working and our region's economy afloat."

On-location commercial filming for advertisers such as Wal-Mart, L'Oreal and Verizon remained a bright spot, rising 8% in the fourth quarter and 4% for the year for 7,079 production days -- a new record for the region.


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