California’s filming exodus leaves Hollywood’s essential workforce sidelined

Picketers carry signs outside a movie studio.
Months after picketers carry signs outside movie studios, Hollywood’s essential workforce is finding it difficult to return to work.

Good morning. It’s Tuesday, March 26. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

Why it’s taking so long to get Hollywood back to work

Hollywood’s essential workers are ready to work after nearly half a year of overlapping work stoppages from last year’s writers’ and actors’ strikes. However, many of them are struggling to find jobs due to a slow recovery.

After the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists resolved labor disputes, entertainment companies and workers alike seemed eager to turn the lights back on. But a decline in filming activity and job opportunities in California persists — a trend that entertainment workers observed as early as the end of 2022.


The Times’ Christi Carras and Marisa Gerber examined Hollywood’s desire to return to work and why it is taking so long.

Studio projects leaving L.A.

Major studios were desperate to salvage the 2024 film schedules, and creatives, performers and crew members couldn’t wait to get back on set and start making money again. However, filming has not rebounded as swiftly as anticipated — at least, not in California.

The number of on-location shoot days in the L.A. area was down 26% in January compared to the same month in 2023, according to FilmLA. Smaller, independent projects, employing fewer cast and crew members, have received the majority of filming permits compared to major studios and streaming productions.

Since the strike settled, top entertainment companies have been notably absent from filming in L.A. The decreasing volume of major motion pictures shot in California continues a long-term pattern.

  • Disney has 22 live-action films in various stages of production, roughly three of which are based in California.
  • Warner Bros. only has one feature out of seven filming in California.
  • Sony has begun production on six movies, with one slated to shoot in California.
  • Universal Pictures has 11 films in production or pre-production, and none were shot or set to shoot in the Golden State.

The cost of doing business in California

Worsening matters, California is finding it challenging to recover from the walkouts because shooting here is more expensive, multiple production executives told The Times. This expense makes L.A. less appealing to studios seeking cost-cutting options after a significant industry disruption.


“California — while it has its advantages — sits in the wrong place for a moment like this,” said one Hollywood producer who was unauthorized to comment.

Filming activity in the Greater L.A. area had already declined by the end of 2022, according to the nonprofit FilmLA, which monitors on-location shoots and filming permits in L.A.

“Given that 40% of production employment is based in Southern California for the country ... that makes L.A. significantly more important and significantly more impacted when the entertainment industry has a problem,” said Kevin Klowden, executive director of MI finance at the Milken Institute.

Industry experts and insiders attribute the ongoing exodus of productions from California to tax credit incentives offered by other popular filming destinations, such as Georgia, New Mexico, New York, Louisiana and the United Kingdom, which California has failed to compete with.

As other production hubs “continue to develop around the world, we have to find ways to be more competitive,” said FilmLA president Paul Audley. “And I frankly don’t anticipate that changing given what we’re hearing out of Sacramento at this point.”

The effects the decline has on Hollywood’s essential workforce


In the aftermath of the streaming wars — which saw several companies greenlight an excess of content in an effort to compete with Netflix — the studios have been tightening their belts, slashing their staffs, restructuring their businesses and slimming down their production budgets and slates.

TV, film and commercial shoots are a sizable driver of employment, not just for Hollywood’s elite but also for the industry’s below-the-line laborers, craftspeople and myriad ancillary businesses that keep the industry moving.

The slow bounce back post-strike has already impacted small businesses that depend on the steady flow of Hollywood production for revenue, including local prop houses, florists, marketing agencies, drivers and dry cleaners.

“Before the strikes, you really felt the production beating through the city,” said Olivia Cain, a set medic based in North Hollywood who has worked on several films and TV series. “And now, you don’t even want to ask your friends how they’re doing because you know exactly what the answer is. No one’s working. No one’s received a call.”

“It’s been sloooooooow,” added Mimi Clarke, vice president of Front Row Media, an entertainment marketing agency specializing in product placement in movies. “January was a blip, February a bit more, March a bit more, but it’s not where it should be.”

These days, Clarke noted that the agency only receives about half as many weekly inquiries compared to late 2022. She added that much of the new business is for productions in other filming hotspots like Atlanta, Albuquerque and Croatia.


“L.A. is even quieter,” she said.

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