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A California film tax credit helped 'Grease: Live!' dance in L.A.

“Grease: Live!” is bringing the live musical trend to the streets — or rather, studio lots — of Los Angeles.

The Paramount Television production, which will broadcast on Fox at 7 p.m. Sunday Eastern and Pacific, is an iconic tale of high love and angst, made popular in the 1978 theater-to-film adaptation starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta.

The movie included scenes shot at the Los Angeles River basin and Venice High School. But L.A. wasn't a sure bet as a location for the TV event.  In fact, the production nearly ended up filming in New York, much like other recent elaborate live TV musical shows put on by NBC such as "Peter Pan" and "The Wiz Live!"

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Paramount had applied last May for California's recently expanded tax credit program but was put on a waiting list. Producers scrambled to find an alternative location in New York where the talent pool, especially for dancers, would be plentiful. They eyed the same facility in Long Island, where NBC had staged its live musical events.

But in August — on the same day Paramount was set to sign a contract with a Long Island production facility — the studio received a call that credits had opened up in L.A after David Fincher's remake of conspiracy thriller "Utopia" for HBO was scrapped. Paramount got the OK for a $2.3-million state tax credit, which allows producers to cut at least 20% of their qualified production costs.

"We were somewhat handcuffed by the financials on the project," said Roderick Smith, executive vice president of production finance at Paramount Pictures. "We would not have done the show here in California without the credit."

There were other advantages to filming in Southern California, including closer proximity to the studio and the unpredictable winter weather in New York that could have caused delays.

Because of the last-minute change in location, however, Paramount was unable to film the show on its own lot, which was full up.  So "Grease Live!" will film at the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, where it takes up two soundstages.

This month, crew members were working on the finishing touches inside Stage 23, which will take on the appearance of the dry riverbed of the Los Angeles River, in addition to serving as the set for Lover's Lane and the drive-in.

Some exterior scenes, meanwhile, will take place on the backlot on Midwest Street (most notable as the Rosewood backdrop in “Pretty Little Liars.”)

Since the live broadcast will be filmed partly outdoors, a 40-foot-tall, tent-like shield was erected to cover the exterior of Rydell High in the event of a storm.

About $11 million in spending from "Grease: Live!" will qualify for state tax credits. Qualified expenses include salaries of crew members, building sets and other costs, according to the California Film Commission. The project boasts 170 crew members, 38 cast members and 20 stand-ins/extras. With the exception of one NYC choreographer, the entire crew is L.A.-based. 

Paramount has also secured a tax credit for another TV project, "13 Reasons Why," being adapted into a miniseries for Netflix.

Separately, the California Film Commission also announced Tuesday that 174 feature film projects had applied for state tax credits. The projects, which include 29 studio films and 145 independent features, are vying for $56.9 million in tax credits. The projects will be selected on Feb. 8.

"It illustrates the effectiveness of this program that we're able to recruit and draw productions back to California," said Amy Lemisch, executive director of the California Film Commission.

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