Inside move: Commercials biz looks lean

L.A. ad producers flee after labor strife

Going, going, gone?

That’s the question percolating through the once-mighty commercials production scene in Los Angeles. Though the economy has clearly taken a toll, many still blame the SAG-AFTRA commercials strike of 2000 for scaring off biz — and worry about further erosion as the current pact’s expiration looms in October.

“Producers were forced outside L.A., so the strike was a catalyst for speeding up the comfort level with shooting overseas,” asserts Matt Miller, prexy of the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers. “Because of the attraction of lower costs, it would have happened eventually, but it’s occurred much faster than many anticipated.”

Data from the L.A.-based Entertainment Industry Development Corp. confirm that conclusion — May and June combined for 566 permitted days, half the ’99 pace and the worst perf since the strike.

“We have the best crews, actors and special effects in the entire world,” asserts Frank Scherma, chief of L.A.-based ad shop Radical Media. “But it’s a global business and we have to compete with Prague, not New York.”

Miller stresses L.A. has been hit hard by ongoing trimming of corporate marketing budgets. As a result, companies order fewer new ads, rerun old ads and seek out lower-cost production sites abroad.

It’s a chilling change from the dot-com boom of the late ’90s, according to Steve Netburn of Angel City Prods. “The idea back then was to shoot a spectacular spot in L.A. on a spectacular budget. Now the clients have gone to simpler spots without much CGI.”

L.A.-based location manager Keith Nakata also notes shoots have become notably shorter. “We used to see ads composed of one-second vignettes at multiple locations, but now they try for a day at a single location,” he explains.

SAG and AFTRA are set to begin negotiations on a new pact Sept. 3.

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