Location filming jumped 10% in L.A. last year

Location filming in Los Angeles jumped 10% in 2014, thanks in part to surge in commercial shoots

A crop of new dramas and reality TV shows, along with a surge in commercial shoots, helped deliver a 10% boost in location filming on the streets of Los Angeles last year.

But the generally encouraging results were tempered by weak performance for feature films, which saw a decline in activity as fewer projects qualified for a dwindling pool of state subsidies.

After three years of growth, feature film production posted a 3% drop in location filming, generating 4,535 shoot days, according to figures reported by FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and county. In the fourth quarter alone, feature film activity plummeted 28%.

Location 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 generous tax credits and rebates that allow filmmakers to save 30% or more on film expenses.

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

About 15 movies that filmed in the L.A. area in 2014 received a California film tax credit, including “American Sniper,” “Nightcrawler,” “Jersey Boys” and “The Gambler.”

Conspicuously absent from the mix were large-budget studio films, which did not qualify for funding under the previous program, which restricted credits to movies with budgets below $75 million.

The new program, which takes effect this year, removes that restriction, and is widely expected to increase the number of big movies that film in Southern California.

“The incentives offered by other states and countries remain a key issue for us,” said Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A. “It gives us some real enthusiasm about this year when the state’s available funding is so much greater.”

On a more positive note, on-location television production increased 12% for the year, fueled by increases in television dramas and reality TV programs.

Dramas recorded a 29% boost in activity with 3,666 shoot days. The increase marks a sharp reversal from only two years ago, when drama production fell to historic lows in Los Angeles.

Despite growing competition from Georgia, New York and other states, L.A. has seen a turnaround partly because of an overall growth in the television industry.

The emergence of new media players such as Netflix and Amazon has heightened competition, causing cable and network broadcasters to boost their investments in new scripted series, FilmL.A. noted. As a result, the number of TV pilots -- the first episode in a proposed new series -- jumped to record levels last season.

New dramas shooting locally include the CBS science fiction series “Extant” with Halle Berry, “Matador” on El Rey and the CW’s “Jane the Virgin.”

California’s tax credit also played a part in the rebound of TV dramas, the most economically lucrative form of television, Audley said.

Most of the incentive money has funneled to television series such as “Justified,” “Teen Wolf” and “Pretty Little Liars.”  Such returning TV series got first priority for state subsidies under the old program, leaving less money available for movies.

Although they don’t qualify for California’s film and TV tax credit, commercial producers also had another good year.

The number of shoot days for commercials shot on location jumped 9% to 5,192 days, marking the fourth consecutive year of growth in a sector viewed as an economic bellwether. Nearly half of all commercials are filmed in the L.A. area.

The increase reflects continued improvement in the economy, as major brands spend more to attract consumers, and rapid growth in Web-based advertising.

“The good news in commercials is that there are all these new places for commercials to air,” Audley said.

Twitter: @rverrier

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