Toeing the Line: Benefits of filming here at home

The Wednesday night CBS crime procedural "Criminal Minds" is one of those shows that just kind of rolls along beneath the radar, a productive foot soldier in its ninth season that's easy to take for granted because it performs with such ridiculous consistency.

You know how everyone lost his collective lunch over the fact that the "Breaking Bad" finale attracted a "record" 10.3 million viewers to AMC on Sept. 29? Well, since its debut in 2005, "Criminal Minds" has averaged more than 13 million pairs of eyeballs each week. Nine seasons in, it's still drawing around 11 million. Mind you, the series puts up those numbers despite competing directly against Fox's the X-Factor in the fall and American Idol in the winter/spring.

"But that kind of steady performance isn't a story," reasons Harry Bring, a "Minds" co-executive producer since 2011.

Well, it is now.

"Criminal Minds" is Exhibit A in the argument that television production need not run away to tax-break havens like Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan and New Mexico to thrive. The ABC Studios/CBS TV Studios co-production is one of the most visible shows regularly shooting around Burbank, Glendale and surrounding areas, producing 24 hour-long episodes annually and budgeted for location shoots for half the days in an eight-day shoot.

As Bring explains it, the "Criminal Minds" budget averages about $3.5 million per episode, which is fairly modest by network primetime standards.

Of that $3.5 million, roughly a third goes to the so-called "above-the-line" people who work on the show, including the actors, writers and producers. The other two-thirds goes to "below-the-line" expenditures, including paying the crew, renting equipment, securing locations and constructing sets.

"We're essentially doing $2 million worth of business in the communities where we work every eight days," Bring explains.

A lot of it winds up in Glendale and Burbank, though the "Criminal Minds" crew moves around other areas of Southern California to represent the different cities depicted in the series.

When filming, say, in Glendale, the production might pay out several thousand dollars to regular homeowners, a dry-cleaning business or a church to shoot a scene, or several. It will rent parking for the shoot's many hulking work trucks and trailers. It'll order in meals from local restaurants.

Of course, there's also a downside to all of that money being funneled in, Bring acknowledges.

"We're likely an inconvenience to some people," he admits. "Some business owners don't like the fact we're clogging the sidewalks and upsetting business flow. But we like to think we're ultimately enhancing the business of the area just from the people and interest it all attracts."

Might "Criminal Minds" be shot cheaper elsewhere? Bring concedes that it no doubt could, considering the up to 30% tax rebates that are being used as lures in several states. When he worked as an executive producer on the Lifetime drama "Army Wives," that show took advantage of the incentive by shooting in Charleston, S.C., and saving about $500,000 per episode. That brought the price tag down from $2.4 million to about $1.9 million.

Bring reasons that leaving town isn't really an option for "Minds" because it must take advantage of the varied geography of the area to portray desert and jungle and rock quarry, if necessary.

"We just have so many different environments here locally within an arm's reach that it just wouldn't make sense to be anyplace else," he says. "You name it, it's here.

"But beyond that, the amazing cooperation we get from these communities — especially Burbank and Glendale — helps us to save on expenses because it cuts down on the hassle. You can't minimize that. And of course, having a fantastic, committed crew doesn't hurt."

So "Criminal Minds" will keep doing its thing without much fanfare, going about the boring business of winning its time period every week, ranking in the Nielsen Top 20 among all shows for the season, and getting renewed year after year. And it will earn everyone concerned a tidy profit while remaining a homebody.

Sorry, Louisiana. You can't have this one.

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RAY RICHMOND has covered Hollywood and the entertainment business since 1984. He can be reached via email at ray@rayrichco.com and Twitter at @MeGoodWriter.


 

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