Off-lot production in the Los Angeles area increased by 15% last year, thanks largely to unexpected fourth-quarter gains in feature production and TV along with a surge in commercials shooting.

FilmL.A. said California’s tax credit incentive program was responsible for 26% of local feature production for 2010, or 1,400 permitted days, and noted that feature shooting still remains far below the levels of the mid-1990s.

Year-end stats released Tuesday by nonprofit permitting agency FilmL.A. showed 43,646 permitted days in 2010. Feature shoots for the year were up 8.1% to 5,378 days, TV gained 11.9% to 17,833 days, and commercials increased 28% to 6,778.

“Were it not for these projects, 2010 would have been the worst year on record for on-location feature filming in Los Angeles,” the permitting agency said. “As it stands, that record is held by the year 2009, when the features category finished 64% below its historical peak.”

FilmL.A. prexy Paul Audley expressed hope that California’s 2-year-old tax credit incentive program will continue to play a major role in keeping production from leaving the state.

“On balance, the numbers are positive, and I am cautiously optimistic about 2011,” he added. “Hopefully, with FilmL.A.’s new Film Works marketing campaign and the California Film & Television Tax Credit, our state and region will win back entertainment projects and jobs once taken for granted.”

The five-year state program began in July 2009 and made $200 million a year in tax credits for film and TV productions available over the first year and another $100 million in 2010.

Fourth-quarter FilmL.A. stats showed a 28% surge to 1,520 days of feature shooting, following a 6.6% decline in the third quarter. Those projects included two that will receive tax credits — “Drive” and “Rampart” — along with “Jack and Jill,” “For the Love of Money,” “The Artist,” “Now” and “Red State.”

Fourth-quarter TV stats shot up 49.9% to 4,832 following an 8.2% decline in the third quarter. TV dramas gained 22.9% while reality rose 89.4.2%, sitcoms more than tripled from 208 to 680 for a 227% gain, and pilots increased 12.6%.

Agency noted that dramas have been shifting onto studio lots, making them untrackable to FilmL.A., while single-camera sitcoms are being shot on area streets.

Commercials gained 2.5% in the fourth quarter following quarterly increases of 60.7%, 34.5% and 21.9%.

“The uptick in numbers clearly reflects the reality that the advertising industry is rebounding nicely from one of its greatest slumps in history,” said Matt Miller, prexy-CEO of the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers. “Along with the growing need for video content for marketing communications, the models to fulfill these needs continue to shape this segment of the media landscape, and illustrate the importance of this sector as an important economic influencer in Southern California.”