COVID-19 pandemic causes 25-year low in L.A. filming

Three people in masks stand apart at a spacious film site.
The set of “Songbird,” a thriller set during the pandemic and shot in Los Angeles in July 2020.
(Jason Clark)

A boost in production in the fall was not enough to keep 2020 from being one of the worst years for filming in Los Angeles in a generation.

On-location filming in the L.A. region produced just 18,993 shoot days in 2020, down 48 % from 36,540 shoots days in 2019 — the lowest level in over 25 years, according to a new report from film-permitting group FilmLA.

During the fourth quarter, production picked up considerably, reaching 7,348 shoot days, but was still down 25% compared with the year-earlier period, the report said. A shoot day is defined as one crew’s permission to film at one or more locations during a 24-hour period.


“The impact of COVID-19 on local film production and jobs cannot be overstated,” FilmLA President Paul Audley said in a statement. “With production paused for 87 days and the industry responsible and cautious in returning to work, total annual production fell to unprecedented lows.”

Paul Audley, president of FilmLA, answers questions about Hollywood’s return to work and the organization’s own challenges.

Jan. 26, 2021

Feature films saw the biggest decline, with just 1,641 shoot days in 2020, down 56% from the previous year. Projects included “King Richard” and “Invasion.”

Television shoot days declined 38% to 8,338 in 2020, as networks and producers switched from scripted shows to easier-to-film reality TV programs. In the fourth quarter, TV generated 3,996 shoot days, up 6% over the year-earlier period.

The burst in activity in the fourth quarter was driven by reality TV production, which alone had 1,946 shoot days, up 93% over the same period last year.

During the pandemic, networks have filled the airwaves with more reality TV, one-off TV specials, occasional reruns and the acquisition of foreign English-language series. NBC premiered the Canadian medical drama “Transplant” to temporarily replace its original series “New Amsterdam,” FilmLA noted. The CW also aired foreign series, including “Devils” from Italy and Canada’s “Coroner.”

Some networks also borrowed shows from their other divisions, such as CBS airing old episodes of “Star Trek: Discovery,” which first appeared on its All Access streaming service.

Still, television accounted for 54% of total shoot days in the fourth quarter, compared with just 38% in 2019, FilmLA said.


Before the pandemic hit, 2020 was the year of peak TV. With a plethora of streaming platforms clamoring for hit shows, the year started off with plans for 215 new scripted dramas and sitcoms across broadcast, cable and streaming. That included 140 one-hour and 75 half-hour projects as well as limited series and miniseries.

The number of projects set for production had reached the highest level since FilmLA began tracking these numbers in 2011, up by 10% over 2019.

Yet by August, only 36 % of new TV projects planned had completed production, FilmLA estimated. About 8% of the 215 planned shows were pushed to 2021, while 5% were canceled outright.

The industry continued to experience a shift in production away from broadcast TV to streaming platforms. The year saw 97 new streaming projects, up 28% from 2019, surpassing new broadcast projects for the first time.

California remained the top location for global TV production in 2020, although its market share has waned over the past year, FilmLA said.