TV helps boost recovery in Hollywood production activity

"NCIS: Los Angeles" actor Chris O'Donnell takes a call on set
Actor Chris O’Donnell and the crew on the set of the CBS show “NCIS: Los Angeles” as they practice social distancing and COVID-19 safety protocols in December.
(Ron Jaffe/CBS)

TV shoots on the streets of Los Angeles drove a recovery in Hollywood production during the first quarter as COVID-19 infections continue to recede in the state.

CBS’ “NCIS: Los Angeles,” Netflix’s “Colin in Black & White” and Showtime’s “Shameless” were among the TV productions that contributed to a total 3,766 shoot days in the first quarter, up 50% from the same period last year, FilmLA said in a report Friday.

Overall on-location filming in the quarter dropped 3% to 7,011 shoot days compared with a year ago, reflecting a pause in production in January, according to the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and the county.

“What we’re seeing is a movement back toward more normal levels but they’re not going to be at 100% still for a little while,” FilmLA President Paul Audley said. “We’re certainly up in the three-quarter range of normal and that’s really good news.”


The entertainment industry saw tens of thousands of people lose work as a result of a forced shutdown of production last year. Filming in the region restarted in June but surges in the virus’ spread and strict safety protocols on sets have limited the pace of Hollywood’s recovery. Next week unions and an alliance of studio producers are expected to amend an agreement over COVID-19 safety rules struck last fall, which provides for testing and quarantining provisions for cast and crews and expires April 30.

“Even with the return of production that we’re seeing, this is still considered the safest industry out there that’s working now,” Audley said. “They’ve been so successful at keeping the community and production safe during this period that it’s enabled it to continue to grow like this.”

Production remains hampered by restrictions necessary for keeping the COVID-19 pandemic at bay, but filmmakers and studios are optimistic that Hollywood is finally reopening.

Since February, production has been ramping back up in the region. Permit activity in March jumped 45%, with 1,125 applications, compared with February.

Reality TV series saw the biggest boost in activity, up 96% to 1,514 shoot days compared with the first quarter of 2020. TV dramas also grew, up 64% to 1,459 shoot days. About a quarter of the total TV drama shoot days came from projects that qualified for California film and TV tax credits.

Feature film production dropped 14% to 575 shoot days in the first quarter versus the same period last year. The movies filmed locally in the first three months of 2021 included the Columbia Pictures action thriller “The Gray Man,” featuring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans; and the Michael Bay thriller, “Ambulance,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

Commercial production has also not fully recovered. The sector had 993 shoot days last quarter — including shoots for products from Nike and Remy Martin. That was down 18% from a year ago.

One shoot day is defined as one crew’s permission to film at one or more defined locations during all or part of any given 24-hour period.

While the report only covers production activity on location in L.A., Audley said that soundstages have also been active and fully booked. “We know that a lot of production is going on there as well,” he said.