Crew members prepare a scene for an episode of "Modern Family"… (Peter "Hopper" Stone / ABC )
ABC’s Emmy-winning hit series “Modern Family” is a point of pride in Los Angeles, where it stands among the growing crop of comedies filming locally in a region buffeted by production flight.
Local drama production has fallen off dramatically due to the proliferation of film incentives offered outside of California. Notably, the other big winner from Sunday night’s 64th Primetime Emmy Awards, the Showtime series “Homeland,” is actually produced in North Carolina.
But production in Los Angeles of television comedies has been on the rise, climbing nearly 30% to 718 production days January through June compared with the same period a year ago, according to FilmL.A. Inc., which handles film permits for the city and the county. The increase reflects a bevy of newer comedies such as ABC’s “Suburgatory” and NBC’s “Up All Night” as well as more established shows like “Modern Family,” now in its fourth season.
“The Los Angeles region is experiencing a surge in overall comedy production,” said FilmL.A. spokesman Phil Sokoloski.
Studios generally prefer to keep comedies and their writers close to the studios producing them, making them less likely to flee to rival states. In fact, 16 new network comedies will roll out in Los Angeles this fall and midseason, including NBC’s “The New Normal,” “Ben and Kate” on Fox and ABC’s “The Neighbors,” according to FilmL.A.
“For Los Angeles, comedies are the last piece of the industry, with the possible exception of reality TV, that could be considered captive,” Sokoloski said. “We still capture the majority of comedy pilots and comedy series, which we can no longer say of television dramas.”
While many sitcoms film almost entirely on sound stages, documentary-style comedies like “Modern Family” shoot extensively outside of the studio lot. “Modern Family” last season filmed an average of three days out of five on location, compared to one to two for other comedies. The series has generated 83 production days in Los Angeles this year alone.
The 70-member crew for the unconventional family comedy, starring Ed O’Neill and Julie Bowen and executive produced by Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, films throughout the region, from LAX to South Pasadena and Disneyland. For some episodes, the production has traveled to Hawaii and Wyoming. But most of its location scenes are shot within a mile or two of the 20th Century Fox studio lot in Century City where the show is produced.
Frequent nearby locations include the region’s Intercontinental Los Angeles Century City Hotel, the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel, the Grove, Kirby’s Pet Depot on Pico Boulevard, Neiman Marcus luxury department store in Beverly Hills and the Cheviot Hills community adjacent to Fox, where the Dunphy family “hero” house is located.
“We try to keep everything as close as possible to the lot,’’ said “Modern Family” location manager Matthew Chamberlin. ”Our goal is to go out light and go out quick so we can shoot more in a shorter amount of time.”
By doing so, producers minimize the use of trucks and trailers that normally accompany film sets. The approach lessens the impact on neighborhoods, and also reduces costs.
“We just use the minimal amount of equipment and people that we can shuttle over, therefore we’re saving on costs, which helps the overall budget and helps keep the show alive,” Chamberlin said.