Offering another stark example of runaway production in Los Angeles, a new report says that feature filming in the area has plummeted by 50 percent from its peak in 1996, while television drama production is down 39 percent from its 2008 peak.
The two categories are the highest spending and most job-producing of the various types of film work, and their decline is blamed primarily on the 40-plus other states and foreign countries that lure producers with tax credits and other incentives.
“California lost its grip on the highest value film and television projects,” the report concludes. “That loss is plainly reflected in FilmL.A.'s data.”
The report by FilmL.A., the nonprofit that facilitates film permits for Los Angeles and various other Southern California jurisdictions, looks at 20 years of permitted production day data. Those represent days per year that film companies are shooting outside of their own soundstages and studio lots.
“Filming On-Location in Los Angeles: 1993-2013” found an overarching downward trend that was hardly counterbalanced by small upticks in major production categories last year and steady increases in smaller, lower-budgeted production sectors.
“We wanted to take a look at where we are in relation to where we should be,” FilmL.A. President Paul Audley said. “For example, a number that shows a year-over-year increase could cause people to say we're on the right trend, but when you look at that long-term trend, we've sat on the basement floor and now we've come up two or three steps. But we're still nowhere near where we need to be to be back in the light.”
Lower-value productions (such as reality TV shows, student films, porn, still photography shoots) in L.A. have gone up 16 percent in the past six years while the higher-value projects like those previously mentioned, half-hour TV series and commercials only rose by an aggregate 2 percent in the same time period.
Feature production PPDs were 6,972 in 2013, the highest number since 2008 but paltry compared to 1996's figure of 13,980. What makes those numbers even more alarming is the fact that, in the ‘90s, those features were mainly medium and big budgeted studio movies, and now they're primarily low-budget indies.
Audley said that last year, of 584 films shot in our region, only 21 had crews of 100 or more. And more than 500 of those movies had 40 or fewer people on their cast and crew lists.
“So we're doing numbers that show an increase, year over year, in total permit days, but we're also seeing a massive decrease in the economic value of the work being done,” Audley noted.
Still, feature PPDs were up 19 percent over 2012's figures.
California Film Commission Executive Director Amy Lemisch said the report indicates the film and television industries themselves are still healthy — they're just contributing less to the California economy.
“Film L.A.'s report does a great job articulating production trends,” Lemisch said in a written statement. “A key takeaway is the tremendous overall growth in TV drama production and California's loss of that growth to other regions that offer incentives. The same applies to feature production where most big budget films are no longer filmed in Los Angeles — this has meant billions in lost revenue to the state.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti is planning to push for more measures to stem runaway production this year and said the FilmL.A. data helps illustrate the need for stronger efforts.
“This report underscores the urgency of our work to reverse runaway production,” Garcetti said. “The entertainment industry is a cornerstone of our civic identity and our economy, with 500,000 jobs at stake. I will cut red tape at City Hall and fight in Sacramento to make sure L.A. is the best possible place for production and ensure that we are always the entertainment capital of the world.”
The situation with long-running, high-employing television dramas appears stark, despite a nice jump in 2013 PPDs to 4,095 from 2012's rock bottom of 3,633. In 2012, 21 of 23 new dramas were located outside of L.A.
For sitcoms, FilmL.A.'s numbers aren't a great metric, since the bulk of 30-minute shows are shot in studios. That noted, those figures have improved steadily from a low of 863 in 2009 to 2,222 in 2013.
Commercial PPDs have also risen nicely from 2009's 5,292 to 2013's 8,453.
The low value categories of TV pilots and reality series both saw bumps from 2012 to 2013, as did web-based TV, which has ranged from a remarkable, if very low-cost, 386 PPDs in 2008 to 1,725 last year.
All of which brought aggregate PPDs to 51,305 in 2013, not that far behind the peak year number of 55,399 in 2006. However, the higher-value productions component of 2013's number was just 22,588; around 10 percent over 2012's figure, but nowhere near the 38,292 higher-value PPDs hit in 2007.