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TV surge drives uptick in L.A. film production

Another surge in scripted television shoots boosted location film production in the Los Angeles area for 2015, even as feature films and reality TV continued to slide.   

On-location filming rose 1.3% to 37,289 total production days last year, according to newly released figures from FilmL.A. Inc. The data track filming on city and county streets and noncertified sound stages in the Los Angeles region.

Television production has grown in recent years thanks largely to the increased demand for original TV content. The rise of premium cable and new media players such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have increased competition across the television business. 

The Los Angeles area has increasingly relied on the TV business to make up for the migration of movie shoots to other states and countries offering tax breaks.

In 2014, the California Legislature approved a bill that would triple annual funding for the state's film and television tax credit to $330 million. The law took effect last year, providing a boost to filming activity. 

TV dramas and sitcoms posted big gains in 2015, offsetting a drop in reality TV shoots. Overall television production grew nearly 10% to 15,700 shoot days over the previous year. Dramas rose 19% to 4,370, and sitcoms doubled to 2,270, while non-scripted production fell 8% to about 5,090. 

The swell in TV production is good news for the L.A. economy, according to FilmL.A., because of number of long-term jobs those projects tend to generate. 

"We can't overemphasize the impact of the California incentive program on scripted television location shoots in Los Angeles," said Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A., which handles film permits for the city and the county.

Dramas that relocated to California because of the enhanced incentives include FX's "American Horror Story" and ABC's "Secrets & Lies." HBO's "Veep" also moved to the state from Maryland.  

Other shows shooting in the area include Fox's "Grandfathered," Hulu's "Casual" and Amazon's "Transparent."  

But the migration of film shoots to rival locations including Georgia continued to impact major movie production on L.A. streets, which declined 4% to 4,344 shooting days. 

Location filming for movies is down significantly from its peak in 1996 of nearly 14,000 days, due to the heavy competition around the country and the rest of the world where productions have been lured by generous tax breaks.  

However, the new incentive program helped film production pick up steam in the fourth quarter of the year. Movie shoots jumped 12% in the last three months of 2015 compared with the prior year, thanks to films such as "The Conjuring 2" and "CHiPs" that were selected for the new tax-credit program. 

Projects that started filming in Los Angeles last year under the old incentive program included "Rebirth," "The Sentence" and "The Disaster Artist." Big-budget studio pictures were noticeably absent from the mix, reflecting the limitations of California's incentive. Unlike popular movie destinations such as Georgia and Britain, California's program does not cover the salaries of actors, which can be a major portion of studio budgets.

"The old program was virtually out of money for features, and the new one didn't kick in until the fourth quarter," Audley said. "We continue to face competition internationally and in the U.S. for the feature film category."

Commercials were virtually flat in 2015, with about 5,200 production days. Still, commercials remained an important segment for Los Angeles filmmaking, accounting for more production days than movies for the fourth straight year. 

Follow Ryan Faughnder on Twitter for more entertainment business coverage: @rfaughnder

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