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Joy muted over jump in location film shoots in L.A. last month

Location shoots in the Los Angeles area jumped 74% in April over last year. But film industry officials said most were features costing less than $20 million, rather than big studio movies.

May 01, 2012|By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times

Annette Bening, Al Pacino, Ed Harris and several other celebrities helped power a surge in feature film shoots on the streets of Los Angeles last month, but film industry officials were hardly star-struck.

Thanks to a flurry of low-budget celebrity-packed pictures, location shoots jumped 74% in April over last year, continuing double-digital gains from the first quarter of the year, according to FilmL.A. Inc., a nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and the county.

But the welcome news was tempered by the fact that most were features costing less than $20 million, which don't pack the same economic punch as big studio movies that mostly are filmed in Louisiana, Georgia and other states with richer incentives.

California offers a credit of up to 25% of qualified production expenses, but the credit applies only to movies with budgets lower than $75 million.

What's more, feature film activity, although up by double digits this year, remains a fraction of what it was during its peak more than a decade ago. And in a development that is more worrisome for Los Angeles, location filming for television shows — long a key driver of economic activity in the entertainment sector — continued to decline.

Production days for television shoots dropped 17% in April, after a 9% falloff in the first quarter. Industry officials attributed the decline to competition from states like New York, which hosted more than a dozen TV pilots this year. New York allocates $420 million annually to TV and movie production — four times as much as California does.

"It's a continuation of a trend we've seen for a long time," FilmL.A. Inc. President Paul Audley said. "The truth is California has put its toe in the water but really hasn't become fully competitive to bring back the large features and TV dramas that produce the most spending and the most number of jobs for Californians."

Audley said the California Legislature's decision last year to extend the state tax credit by only one year instead of five sent the wrong message to the industry. A bill to extend the program five more years will be taken up by lawmakers this month.

"We need to see them make a true commitment to the industry," Audley said of the state lawmakers. "New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg routinely brags about how much business New York is taking from California."

Although limited in scope, California's program is having some effect in spurring local filming. Two of three new feature films that began filming in L.A. last month — the comedy "Stand Up Guys," produced by Lakeshore Entertainment and distributed by Lionsgate, and the independently produced "The Look of Love" — received approval for a state film credit.

"Stand Up Guys," which stars Pacino and Christopher Walken in a story about aging con men, received approval for a $2.4-million credit, according to the California Film Commission.

"The Look of Love," a romantic comedy with Bening, Harris and Robin Williams, received an $800,000 credit. The production, which began its 26-day-shoot early last month, has filmed in multiple locations, including Mar Vista, La Cañada Flintridge, Bergamot Station in Santa Monica and Aliso Beach in Orange County.

The crew will film in Venice this week, said Mike Fantasia, a veteran location manager who has worked on big-budget movies such as"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"and"The Green Hornet."

"The movie is set here, so it would have been hard to film anywhere else," said Fantasia, who is mulling over offers to work on films in North Carolina and Florida. "It's great to be working at home.... All the big boys are filming out of town."

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