On location filming in L.A. picks up in first quarter

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A robust TV pilot season, a substantially improved climate for shooting commercials and the state’s new film incentive helped deliver a modicum of good news to Los Angeles’ beleaguered production economy in the first quarter.

Overall on-location filming activity for feature films, television and commercials jumped 25% during the first three months of 2010 compared with the same period last year, according to data from FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit group that handles permits for on-location filming for L.A. and unincorporated areas of the county.

‘The level of production has exceeded our expectations this quarter,’ said Todd Lindgren, spokesman for FilmL.A. ‘We’re starting to see commercials swing up, more of the state incentive productions out on the streets of L.A., and a better pilot season than we had forecast.’

The upturn is welcome news to tens of thousands of workers who work behind the scenes on film sets and who’ve been hard hit by a production downturn over the last two years caused by labor unrest, recession and the migration of work outside of California. On-location production last year posted its steepest annual decline since tracking began in 1993.


Although on-location shoots remain well below the levels of 2007, there were notable signs of improvement across all categories in the first quarter.

Leading the way were commercials, which saw about a 60% increase in production days this quarter over the same period a year ago. A production day is defined as a single crew’s permission to film at a single location over a 24-hour period.

Economic recovery and a greater willingness among advertisers to spend money brought a flurry of shoots to L.A. locations for such clients as Chevy Trucks, Subaru, AT&T, Best Buy and Miller Light, FilmL.A. said.

On-location shoots for television rose 19%, reflecting a much-improved pilot season over last year, when the major TV studios reduced spending and limited on-location shoots of locally based dramas like ‘NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service’ and ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.’

About 30 pilots are shooting around L.A., which has been steadily losing market share to other states and to Canadian cities Vancouver and Toronto. Those include NBC’s remake of the 1970s TV series ‘The Rockford Files,’ starring Dermot Mulroney and Beau Bridges; and a Fox TV comedy ‘Traffic Light,’ featuring David Denman and Alexandra Breckenridge.

Feature production, the hardest hit by so-called runaway production, posted a 6% gain in activity in the quarter. But the sector would have been harder hit had it not been for the state’s film tax credits, which took effect last year, Lindgren said. At least a dozen features approved under the program have been shooting locally, including an independent crime comedy, ‘The Last Godfather,’ starring Harvey Keitel, and the Screen Gems drama ‘Burlesque,’ starring Cher.

‘There is no question the incentive is putting productions on the street that would not otherwise have been in the state,’ Lindgren said. ‘They are employing crews and spending money in the local economy.’