L.A.’s reality check

TV shoots up; features dip

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

A 22% decline in off-lot feature activity during the first quarter in the region was more than offset by a 29% 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.

The TV numbers also underline the growing popularity of reality shows — which accounted for 44% of all small-screen activity — and suggest that the networks may be moving toward stockpiling programming as a hedge against a possible Writers Guild strike this fall. Film L.A. prexy Steve MacDonald cautioned against reaching such a conclusion, however, opining that the TV surge stemmed from the combo of a healthy pilot season, the ongoing traction for procedurals (such as “CSI”) and increased demand due to growth of cable outlets.

And the agency’s figures give no indication of stockpiling yet on the feature side. Permitted feature days for the first quarter declined by 526 to 1,860 — barely half the total of the region’s first-quarter peak of 3,339 days in 2001, when fears of a strike accelerated feature production.

Features shot in the Los Angeles area during the first quarter included “Nancy Drew,” “Get Smart” and “Pineapple Express.” Film production on public property in L.A. remains about 40% below the levels of a decade ago — a development that MacDonald blames on the region’s lack of incentives for filmmakers.

“Given the unprecedented growth in feature film production in other locales, it appears the current drop in Los Angeles is a direct result of financial incentives now offered by more than 30 U.S. states,” he said. “With substantial tax credits and rebates, other states have been able to lure big-budget films and the jobs and tax revenues that go with them.” 

Film L.A. also reported first-quarter TV activity hit 6,478 days for the busiest quarter on record — 9% above the mark set in the third quarter — as TV production in Hollywood continued to surge. Reality TV took up the lion’s share of first-quarter activity, with 2,840 days, while dramas accounted for 25.6% while sitcoms repped 9.3% of the total.

“It’s too early to tell if anyone’s preparing for a strike, but the second-quarter numbers should give a much better indication,” MacDonald said.

First-quarter commercial production days rose 9.5% to 2,076 days, in line with the levels of two years ago.

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