A Jiffy Lube commercial is shot by production company Morton Jankel Zander… (Arkasha Stevenson, Los…)
On a sunny Monday afternoon near the Port of Los Angeles, a man straddling a mechanic's red toolbox wheeled down a street, struggling to maintain his balance as he turned a corner.
A camera crew filmed the action as part of a shoot for oil-change chain Jiffy Lube, one of at least a dozen commercials shot this week across Los Angeles County. Others included spots in downtown L.A. for Yoplait yogurt and Jeep Cherokee as well as in North Hollywood for J.C. Penney.
Commercial shoots are surging in L.A., fueled by several factors, including an economic recovery, ads for the Super Bowl, the summer Olympics and political campaigns, and even a tax break offered by the city.
Location shoots for commercials in the L.A. area rose 8% in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier and last year climbed to the highest level on record — generating 7,079 production days, according to FilmL.A. Inc., which handles film permits for Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles.
Although they don't get as much attention as movies and television shows, commercials have become an increasingly important contributor to L.A.'s $48-billion entertainment economy. Since 2009, commercials have accounted for more location shoots than feature films, which have been harder hit by runaway production.
Movies and TV shows employ larger crews, but commercials still pack an economic punch: Filming a 30-second spot for broadcast TV can employ 40 crew members and carry a budget of $100,000 to $400,000.
Commercial production has risen nationwide in part because the overall economy has improved, industry analysts say. The recession caused a sharp falloff in advertising spending in 2008 and 2009, but big brands including auto companies such as Chrysler and consumer electronics firms such as Apple have been setting aside more advertising dollars to market their products as consumer spending has grown.
"There are several things coming into play, but one of them definitely is the rebounding economy," said Matt Miller, president of the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers, a trade group with 178 members in Southern California. "Overall, it's been a pretty good year throughout the industry."
Sponsors of the 2012 Olympic Games in London already have begun stockpiling commercials as part of their marketing campaigns, generating more fourth-quarter business for local producers, who also benefited from Super Bowl ads, Miller said. The National Football League recently signed record-setting television rights deals with Fox, NBC and CBS, which are eager to capitalize on huge ratings for the games.
Another factor behind the commercial production upswing is the proliferation of digital media, which has created more demand for ads that can be run across multiple platforms — on websites such as Hulu, iPads and smartphones.
"A lot of brands are trying any way they can to capture potential customers," said Jerry Solomon, managing partner for Epoch Films, which has produced commercials for AT&T, Audi and Apple. "It's not just TV anymore."
Production companies that shoot commercials in Los Angeles also got a boost last year after the City Council reduced the taxes they pay for doing business in the city. L.A. raised the threshold at which commercial producers pay business taxes, lowering their tax burden by as much as $3,400 annually.
Despite the city's tax break, producers say they face growing pressure to consider shooting spots in other locales that offer more favorable tax credits because California's film tax credit excludes commercials. L.A.'s share of overall commercial production worldwide was 51% in 2010, down from 54% in 2007, reflecting growing competition from states such as New York and Illinois, according to the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers. During the same period, New York's market share grew to 15% from 12%.
And while local producers may be busier, they're not necessarily making more money because they face more pressure to cut budgets and turn around projects more quickly.
"We used to get two days to shoot one 30-second spot. Now, we're shooting one 30-second spot in a day," said Rick Fishbein, special projects producer for Santa Monica-based Green Dot Films. "We're working harder to reach the same bottom line that we had a decade ago."