N.Y., Canada landing more productions

Hollywood has lost its grip on pilot season.

FilmL.A., the film permitting org for Los Angeles, has issued a five-year study that puts hard numbers on runaway pilot production, in which broadcast and cable nets are fleeing L.A. for New York, Canada and other locales offering incentives that help stretch production dollars.

Pilot production overall has dropped 17% during the past five years, and L.A.’s share of that biz has dropped 42%.

Other states that have been successful in using incentives to draw projects include Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, according to FilmL.A.

The report also quantifies the hit that the creative community has taken in its wallet on the pilot front. Overall spending on pilot production (in all locations) has eased about 33% during the past five years to an estimated $207 million in the latest pilot production cycle from $309 million in the 2004-05 frame.

As major nets rely more on nonscripted programs in primetime, the total number of pilots produced has fallen from 124 in 2005 to 103 this year to date, according to FilmL.A.

Of this year’s 103 pilots, 42 were filmed outside L.A. In 2005, when FilmL.A. began tracking pilot production, Los Angeles claimed 101 of the total 124 pilots produced.

Canada was the hot spot this year as New York’s incentive program temporarily ran out of allocated coin just as pilot lensing decisions were being made.

Fifteen hourlong and half-hour pilots were shot in Canada earlier this year, compared with 10 for New York. Last year, in the development cycle truncated by the 100-day writers strike, New York had 10 pilots to Canada’s 12.

For California, L.A.’s dwindling share of a shrinking scripted TV market amounts to a big economic hit to the region at a time when the Golden State can ill afford to lose business tax revenues. The report is clear evidence that the filming incentives available in 44 states are taking a huge bite out of Hollywood’s hometown biz, according to FilmL.A. prexy Paul Audley.

“This just reflects the general trend that we have seen for television and other film production to leave California,” he said. “It isn’t good news for California.”

The state earlier this year passed a five-year, $500 million incentive program, but it has been criticized within the biz as having too many strings attached to make a big impact immediately (Daily Variety, Feb. 20).

Among other restrictions, California’s incentive program — which offers producers a 20%-25% tax credit on below-the-line tax expenditures as of July 1 — can be used only for cable productions, not the bigger-budget broadcast TV projects. And the tax credit coin for expenditures made this year won’t be rebated to producers until 2011.

New York has been successful in luring a bevy of film and TV productions to its borders since it implemented an aggressive 30% tax credit incentive, with New York City throwing in 5% more for productions shooting within Gotham. However, budget woes in the Empire State are spurring legislators to tighten up aspects of the state and city program (Daily Variety, June 8).

Proponents of lensing tax incentives argue that the credits pay for themselves by attracting production activity and tax revenue that would not otherwise have been generated in the locale, although that argument is harder to make in Hollywood and environs.

An Ernst and Young study of New York’s program found that its production incentives will have generated $2.7 billion in tax coin between 2005 and 2010, of which $685 million will be refunded to producers through the credits (Daily Variety, March 2).

“California’s incentive program is a crack in the door,” Audley said. “We’ll be watching it closely over the next year. We’d love to be reporting good news next year as a result” of the legislation, he said.

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