Film production drops 15% in the first quarter

Feature film production activity in Los Angeles County plummeted 15% in the first quarter of this year, continuing a slide in a sector that has been squeezed by runaway production.

Los Angeles generated 926 shoot days in the first quarter, down from 1,094 during the same period a year ago, according to a report from FilmLA Inc., a nonprofit group that handles film permits in the city and county.

The drop follows a 28% decline in feature film activity in the fourth quarter of last year and reflects the dwindling availability of state incentives intended to keep movies in Southern California.

Under a program enacted in 2009, most of the state’s tax credit funds have been set aside for existing television shows, which have consumed an increasingly large share of tax credits in recent years.

“Because of commitments to returning television series, there was no funding left for features in the last year of the program,” said Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A. “So, we’re seeing the impact of that.”

Location feature filming has fallen by about 50% since it peaked in 1996 as California has faced more competition from other states and countries that have lured away business with tax credits and rebates that allow filmmakers to save 30% or more on film expenses.

Seeking to reverse the trend, California filmmakers have moved to bolster incentives to Hollywood. Last year, the California Legislature approved a bill that would triple annual funding for the state’s film and television tax credit to $330 million.

The commission will take applications May 11-17 for studio TV projects and July 13-25 for independent and feature films. A third allocation will occur sometime in the winter. The California Film Commission will launch the new program next month for studio TV projects and in July for independent and feature films. A third allocation will occur sometime in the winter.

“We’re hoping that the new program can bring these numbers up pretty quickly,” Audley added.

There were some bright spots in the latest report.  Production of television dramas such as “Hit the Floor” “Justified” and “Teen Wolf” jumped nearly 30% to 1,058 shoot days in the first quarter compared with a year ago.

Reality TV also jumped about 20% in the quarter, offsetting sharp declines in TV sitcoms, which dropped 15%; and TV pilots, which fell 19% in the quarter.

More TV pilots have been shooting north of the border, especially in Vancouver, Canada, as producers take advantage of favorable exchange rates.

“We’re told the change in the value of the dollar has driven some of the work up that way,” Audley said.

The new film tax credit program, however, should help retain more pilots in Los Angeles. Unlike the current program, it includes a provision that allows TV pilots to qualify for tax credits.

Meanwhile, commercial production increased 6% in the quarter with 1,435 shoot days. Brands such as Best Buy, Bose, Honda, Samsung and Yelp all filmed commercial spots in the L.A. area this year.

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