The director watches a monitor as an actor rushes down a staircase into a basement wine cellar, searching among the racks of bottles for his childhood crush.
The wine cellar is actually a plywood set on the ground floor of a converted Northridge warehouse, one of several newly constructed sets where the MTV series “Teen Wolf” recently began filming its third season after moving from Georgia.
“Teen Wolf” is a rarity — a show that relocated to Los Angeles from elsewhere to take advantage of California’s film and TV tax credit program since it took effect in 2009.
Producers of the drama — which centers around an awkward teenager whose life is transformed when he is bitten by a werewolf — had planned to shoot the series in L.A. But they opted to film the show in Atlanta, taking advantage of Georgia’s 30% tax credit, which has attracted other series, including AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and the CW’s “The Vampire Diaries.”
Producers of “Teen Wolf” applied for a credit under California’s program, which awards $100 million annually via a lottery system, but were put on a waiting list. When others dropped out, “Teen Wolf” made the cut and producers were notified this spring that they would be eligible for funding. MTV parent Viacom received approval for a $10.4-million tax credit, one of the largest credits approved this year, according to the California Film Commission, which runs the program.
“We got lucky,” said Joe Genier, an executive producer on “Teen Wolf.” “It was a major sigh of relief for us. The story is set in Northern California and we always wanted to film here, but financially it didn’t really make sense until a tax credit could come into play.”
There were other factors as well, including the fact that Genier and many of his colleagues live in L.A. Genier, who also was an executive producer on Tyler Perry’s “Madea’s Big Happy Family,” hasn’t worked in L.A. since 2006.
Having writers, editors and crew all in one place is a key advantage, said showrunner Jeff Davis.
“I’m the type of showrunner who likes to be on set every day,” said Davis, who created the CBS series “Criminal Minds.” “Here I can talk to the editor on the set — that’s a huge consideration for me.”
“Teen Wolf,” part of the genre of popular teen supernatural dramas that includes HBO’s “True Blood” and “Vampire Diaries,” is a top-rated cable series that has averaged more than 1.7 million viewers each week. Loosely inspired by the Michael J. Fox movie of the same name, “Teen Wolf” is MTV’s most successful scripted drama series and the first to be extended to a full 24 episodes.
Genier and his team are leasing a 90,000-square-foot warehouse in Northridge that includes production offices, editing suites and various sets, including ones for a hospital, classroom and bedrooms. “We really wanted to make the most out of our space,” Genier said.
Although mainly shooting on soundstages, the crew will also shoot about three out of eight days per episode on location. “Teen Wolf” filmed in downtown L.A. last week and also plans to use locations in Pacific Palisades, Griffith Park and Canyon Park in Calabasas.
“We definitely want to take advantage of the many and varied locations in L.A.,” Davis said.
Tax breaks for the film industry have generated controversy in some states, particularly those grappling with steep deficits, but are widely supported in Southern California as a means to keep jobs from moving to states that offer more generous incentives. Lawmakers in Sacramento recently approved a two-year extension of the program despite opposition from some groups, including the California Teachers Assn.
“A series of this size with such a long run with a full 24 episodes really has the potential to create a great number of jobs for our workers, especially if it continues for several seasons,” said Amy Lemisch, executive director of the California Film Commission.
Lemisch added that estimated spending for Season 3 of “Teen Wolf” is $60 million, including more than $27 million in wages for crew members. “Teen Wolf” employs more than 300 people who work on the film crew, set construction and other aspects of the show.
“Teen Wolf,” co-produced by MTV and MGM, is one of only a handful of shows that have relocated to California after beginning production elsewhere. ABC last year moved its crime drama “Body of Proof” to Los Angeles from Rhode Island, and BBC America transplanted its now-expired sci-fi series “Torchwood” from Wales in 2010. Comedy Central’s short-lived “Important Things With Demetri Martin” came to L.A. from New York after receiving approval for a California tax credit in 2009.
Although California offers a higher tax credit for relocating television series (25% of qualified expenses compared with 20% for other types of productions), the state gets relatively few takers because of the program’s limited funding and competition from more than 40 states that offer tax breaks.
“We would love to see more of them, but with the limited funding we have there is no way to prioritize the lottery for relocating series like ‘Teen Wolf,’” Lemisch said.