Reality shows bring record-setting activity

Feature filmmaking in Los Angeles continued to cool but TV activity has amped up to record-setting levels thanks to reality shows.

The Los Angeles region saw a 23% decline in off-lot feature activity during the fourth quarter, largely offset by a 22% surge in off-lot TV shooting compared with a year earlier.

Figures released today by the Film L.A. permitting agency reflect the ongoing shift in local production toward the small screen and away from features. Permitted feature days for the fourth quarter declined by 622 to 2,058 — about half the fourth-quarter peak of 4,059 days in 1996.

Features shot in the Los Angeles region last year included “Transformers,” “Spider-Man 3″ and “Live Free or Die Hard.” And due to the fourth-quarter lag, the 2006 total for film activity declined 7% from 2005 to 8,813 days — still the second-highest number since 2001, when fear of actor and writer strikes fueled a frantic rush to stockpile during the first half of the year.

Film production on public property in Los Angeles remains well below the levels of a decade ago. Activity for the entire year hit a record of 13,980 days in 1996, then declined for seven consecutive years before rising 19% in 2004 and 9% last year.

Film L.A. also reported fourth-quarter TV activity hit 5,309 days, the second-busiest quarter on record. TV production in Hollywood has surged over the past decade thanks to reality TV and the growth of cable.

Gains in fourth-quarter TV activity came across the board — 35% in scripted drama to 1,838 days, 37% in reality to 1,844 and nearly double in sitcoms to 667. For the year, which featured the three highest quarters ever, overall small-screen activity rose 10% to 20,652 days with gains of 33% in drama, 13% in sitcoms and 53% in reality.

TV series shot in Los Angeles last year included “Ugly Betty,” “Jericho” and “The Nine” as well as cable series “Entourage,” “Sleeper Cell” and “Weeds.”

Fourth-quarter commercial production days rose 10% to 1,780 days; for the year, shooting of commercials in Los Angeles declined 3% to 6,743.

Film L.A. prexy Steve MacDonald said film production in Los Angeles fell last year because of incentives from other states as well as foreign governments.

“We may look back on 2006 as a turning point given it was the year when 16 of the 28 states that currently offer financial incentives either enacted them for the first time or significantly sweetened what they have to offer,” MacDonald said.

He cited the growing availability of skilled crews and the development of new production facilities such as the Albuquerque Studios complex. Year-to-year production spending in New Mexico doubled last year to¬†$142 million, according to the state’s film office.

MacDonald is skeptical that Los Angeles will see a rebound in feature production this year. “We saw gains in 2004 and 2005 due to there being a significant amount of films that are actually set in Los Angeles such as ‘Crash,’ ‘Collateral’ and ‘Alpha Dog,'” he added.

MacDonald also noted that positive development of the rise in reality TV shoots is somewhat countered by such shows having a significantly smaller economic impact than dramas or sitcoms.

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