A study released Tuesday by FilmL.A. shows that yet another sector of production is fleeing the area for other jurisdictions that offer better incentives.
For the first time, Los Angeles' share of television pilots — the sample episodes used to sell a series — fell below the half mark, to 44 percent, during the 2013-14 development cycle.
More alarming, Los Angeles came in second to New York in the subcategory of one-hour drama pilots, with the Big Apple hosting 24 to L.A.'s 19. Dramas spend far more money and hire more workers than any other TV formats, and 91 dramatic pilots were made out-of-state this cycle.
Add 71 half-hour comedies to the California list — 76 percent of that subsector, down from 83 percent a year earlier — and local pilot production equaled 90 projects out of 203 that were tracked by the survey. In the previous development season, L.A. retained 52 percent of such shows, far down from the 2006-07 seasonal share of 82 percent.
Other jurisdictions that have snagged significant numbers of pilots include Vancouver (17), Atlanta (12) and Toronto (8).
One might ask why this should concern local production boosters. After all, most pilots are one-off productions, with the majority never going to series. Compared with the overall flow of feature films and network shows out of the region, pilots represent a small percentage of area jobs.
“Pilots aren't necessarily low spending, they're just low long term,” said Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A., the region's not-for-profit film office. “Sometimes the pilot is very expensive, but it's only a one-shot. It's only going to be here just to do that one thing unless the series gets picked up.”
The bigger worry is over shows that are sold.
“It's important for the pilots to be here because the series tend to follow behind and shoot in the same place,” Audley said. “What we're seeing — and these are almost tracking in tandem — is that when the pilots leave, so does the show. So we need to bring them back.”
Like all other runaway production, the exodus of pilots is driven by more generous and available production incentives in other parts of North America, which usually take the form of tax credits. New York has more than four times the $100 million California offers to producers each year.
The Empire State also gives tax credits to pilots, whereas California does not. And New York gives them to dramas as well, which California does only under restrictive circumstances — shows that relocate from out of state and new hour-long series for basic cable — that do not include new network series.
Efforts are under way in the state Legislature to increase and expand California's incentives.
“We need to send a signal to the television producers that not only should you shoot your pilot here and get tax incentives for your pilot, but we are going to make it attractive for you to keep the entire run of your show, once it's picked up, here in Los Angeles,” said L.A. City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, whose 13th District covers much of Hollywood and, as a member of the council's ad hoc committee for the entertainment industry, is exploring possible local production incentives.
“Nobody loves the idea of these tax credits, but California not competing is surrendering,” Audley noted. “So they just have to get in the game and hopefully will knock out a lot of other players in the process.”