Pilots push off-lot

TV hits L.A. record in March

Off-lot film production in Los Angeles County staged a mild rebound in March, gaining 13% from February, while TV production set an all-time record as a burst of pilots pushed activity up by a whopping 47%.

Permitted feature production days totaled 549, up 62 from February and down eight from March 2003, according to figures released Monday by the Entertainment Industry Development Corp.

The March figure indicates there’s little evidence of stockpiling since it’s about half the totals logged during the first half of 2001, when each month’s activity topped 1,000 days in a production boom created by fear of work stoppages by the WGA, SAG and AFTRA.

Negotiations launched Monday for the WGA, which faces a May 2 contract expiration. The talks are likely to be rocky due to the scribes’ key demand for a bigger slice of DVD residuals, but studio execs are hopeful a deal can be reached without a work stoppage.

“We expect film activity to pick up in April and May, but it looks as if concerns about the WGA negotiations are not having much impact,” noted Steve Dayan, business manager for location managers repped by Teamsters Local 399.

Features lensing locally in March included “Be Cool,” “Coach Carter,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “Spanglish” and “The Wedding Crashers.”

TV activity totaled 2,466 days, up 992 days from February and 784 days ahead of March 2003, which had been the previous record holder during the decade that the EIDC has handled permitting. “We expected that it would be a busy pilot season, but nobody thought it would get to this level,” said EIDC chair Lisa Rawlins.

Rawlins noted that the strengthening of the Canadian dollar may have also been a factor in keeping TV productions in Los Angeles, since the higher loonie reduces buying power for U.S. producers.

Dayan said April’s TV activity should remain high due to the busier-than-usual pilot season plus a consistent level of activity on series TV. Local off-lot activity has been spurred by the growth of cable and reality shows; series shooting locally include “24,” “Alias,” “Cold Case,” “The Division” and “The Shield.”

Report also showed strong performance in commercial shoots with 644 days. Though the figure was down 224 days from February and 62 days from March 2003, it was nevertheless relatively robust, attaining the second-highest level in a year.

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