After years of flight, TV dramas are returning to California.
On June 1, the California Film Commission released the first list of TV projects approved for a share of the $330 million annual kitty newly available under the state’s expanded incentive program. Among them: HBO’s “Veep,” eligible for $6.5 million in tax credits, and Fox’s “American Horror Story,” approved for $9 million. They qualified as “relocating TV,” having shot earlier seasons in Maryland and Louisiana, respectively.
“We’ve seen TV dramas that used to be filmed in L.A., no matter what the setting, leave California to pursue incentives elsewhere,” says Paul Audley of permitting org FilmL.A. “One of the pushes in the new bill was to give dramas that were excluded from the old program access to the funds.”
The incentive was available only to shows that begin shooting on or after July 1, so some high-profile projects didn’t qualify, but a few shot in the Golden State anyway.
Season 2 of HBO’s “True Detective,” which debuted June 21, wrapped its seven-month California shoot in May. Unlike season 1, which filmed in Louisiana, it takes place in the fictional city of Vinci, and was shot almost entirely in the Southland.
“Fear the Walking Dead,” a companion series to AMC’s “The Walking Dead” that debuts in August, also departs from the setting of its predecessor, which shot in Georgia.
Sources say the “Fear” pilot shot in L.A. from mid-January, 2014 through early February, 2015. The next five episodes shot in Vancouver from mid-April through June 19, with more shooting scheduled in L.A. from June 29 until mid-July.
AMC denied requests to interview artisans about the California part of the “Fear” shoot, and specifically barred the location manager, the cinematographer and Valhalla Entertainment — the show’s producer — from discussing the project. “We would rather reveal those aspects on the screen,” says an AMC spokesman.
So pervasive was the secrecy surrounding “Fear” that for months it masqueraded under the title “Cobalt.”
Its California shooting plans came to light via Internet postings that showed photos of notices distributed by a location scout asking local homeowners, “If you are interested in having a television show film at your home, please contact me.”
HBO was less guarded about “True Detective.” Scribe Nic Pizzolatto says he picked Los Angeles as the location for season 2 “because it’s a fascinating and evocative place … and one of the most defining landscapes of American noir -— the land of arch fantasy and harsh reality, a place whose corruption is seen as inseparable from its beauty.”
The show’s locations department found areas to match the story’s dark mood. “We shot a lot in Downtown-adjacent industrial areas,” says location manager Michael Chickey. “We wanted an alternate version of the city.” The small manufacturing city of Vernon stood in for the show’s fictional Vinci.
Additional filming took place in Malibu, Ventura County and Point Mugu State Park. “A lot of beauty and stunning vistas exist here,” adds Pizzolatto, “and we didn’t want to avoid them, but realize those different identities as aspects of one singular place, this hallucinatory megalopolis on the edge of the continent.”
There was a second reason for shooting in L.A.: “We all liked the idea of staying home this season,” he says.
Unlike “Detective’s” season 2, two future HBO projects have received conditional approval for hefty California credits: the first seasons of “Utopia” ($19.6 million) and “Westworld” ($12 million). Says California Film Commission director Amy Lemisch, “They must be pretty massive, because the credit is proportional to what they’re spending.”
TV shows shot in California can receive up to 25% of qualified expenditures.