Los Angeles County off-lot film production jumped 25% during the first quarter, compared with a year ago, while TV production remained on a hot pace, fueled by a robust pilot season.

Permitted feature production days totaled 2,190 for the first three months of the year, with more than half that figure coming in January at 1,094 days, according to the Entertainment Industry Development Corp.

“We think the first-quarter figures are very encouraging,” said EIDC president Steve MacDonald on Tuesday. He noted local activity may have been boosted by last fall’s passage of the federal Jobs Creation Act, which includes provisions for tax writeoffs for projects with budgets under $15 million.

January’s figure marked the highest total since 2001, when the industry stockpiled amid fears of a potential work stoppage by SAG, AFTRA and the WGA and permitted days topped 1,000 for six straight months. During this past January, SAG and AFTRA negotiated throughout most of the month before reaching a new three-year film deal on Jan. 29.

March’s total of 497 feature days was the lowest in a year, reflecting the trend of lagging feature activity in winter months, along with the region’s ongoing shift toward TV activity.

Permitted TV days totaled 4,675, including a March tally of 2,121 days — the second-highest number since the EIDC began issuing permits a decade ago. First-quarter activity edged down 6% compared with the 2004 period, which saw an all-time record of 2,466 days in March.

Expanded pilot season

The EIDC said at least 131 television pilots were produced during the 2005 production season, and it noted that changes to the programming landscape — original programming by cable networks, a shift away from reruns in favor of midseason replacement shows and a trend toward year-round original programming — has expanded the season to nearly five months, from December to mid-April.

The agency said the average pilot directly employs about 150 people and costs $4 million for a one-hour drama and $2 million for a half-hour comedy or other genre episode. It estimated 57% of pilots were for half-hour episodic series and calculated that the 90 hours of programming translated to $364 million in production spending, with all but $58 million of those costs incurred in Los Angeles.

Incentives boost Gotham

MacDonald noted that pilots are costly to produce compared with established programs and tend to rely more heavily on location production. He also pointed out that New York City had snagged seven pilots during the current season.

“This is the first television pilot season in which New York has hosted a significant amount of production,” he added. “It’s clear that aggressive financial incentives are helping drive TV production to New York, as they have driven features to Illinois, Louisiana and New Mexico.”

Total location production days for commercials fell slightly in the first quarter to 2,044, down 55 from the same period of 2004.