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Los Angeles County saw solid levels of off-lot film production in December, up 19% from a year ago, while TV production remained on a hot pace, fueled by reality TV.

Permitted feature production days totaled 832 in December, the fifth highest level in two years, according to numbers released Wednesday by the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. November’s feature total was the highest of the year, with 902 days.

December’s film activity brought the 12-month total to 8,707, up 18% compared with last year — the first gain in eight years but well off the record highs of 13,980 in 1996. In recent years, Los Angeles production has shifted toward TV and away from features, which have been lured away by government incentives and cheaper costs elsewhere.

No stockpiling

The numbers for 2004 offer little evidence of stockpiling so far as they’re still well below the totals logged during the first half of 2001, when a production boom due to fear of work stoppages by the Writers Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television & Radio Artists sent each month’s activity over 1,000 days. “We haven’t really seen any evidence of stockpiling yet,” said EIDC president Steve MacDonald.

TV activity totaled 1,468 days in November and 1,096 days in December, marking the first time that TV production had surpassed 1,000 days in every month of a year since the EIDC began tracking data in 1994. For 2004, TV production rose 26.8% to 18,257 days, with reality programming accounting for 47.1% of small-screen production.

MacDonald also noted that most of 2004’s growth occurred during the summer, with a 32% hike over the 2003 frame and a 74% increase over the 10-year seasonal average.

Summer trend

“The rise in summer production is likely to become a new trend,” he added. “Shows such as ’24’ require shooting virtually year-round to produce more than the standard 22 episodes per season.”

MacDonald also cited the proliferation of new programming venues and the nets’ reluctance to rely on repeats as additional factors in fueling the increase.

Total location production days for 2004 reached 52,707, up 19% over 2003. MacDonald warned that the summer surge in location-intensive reality shooting may not be sustained and that Los Angeles faces a threat from other cities, states and nations that offer aggressive incentives.

“We must not let today’s positive figures blind us to the reality that Los Angeles is the target of an all-out campaign to seize our signature industry,” he added.