Even as filming begins a slow return, the nonprofit FilmLA reported Wednesday that operations declined by more than half this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Updated data indicates that filming declined by 54.5% from July through September, compared to the same period last year. Reality TV was up 10.3% and commercials were down 41.2%, together accounting for 46% of all on-location filming.
The local film industry’s road to recovery hinges on this month’s planned restart for scripted television and feature projects of scale, according to industry experts.
“The stage is set for a return — not to business-as-usual but to the `best-progress-possible’ for film production in area communities,” said FilmLA President Paul Audley. “L.A. loves film, and there is a real enthusiasm to see this work come back, plus real effort on the part of the industry and local public health authorities to see that it does so with care for public health.”
During September, FilmLA saw multiple weeks of business activity increases, receiving on average about 34 film permit applications per day. September was also the month that television edged out commercials as the source of new applications for the first time since June.
FilmLA found that reality TV emerged as the bright spot for the local summer filming season. Operating with smaller crews and casts and the freedom to easily adjust storyline and location choice, reality projects came online quickly after Los Angeles County reopened to filming in mid-June with health protection protocols in place. Although reality TV production peaked in 2014 and the category has declined each year since, FilmLA predicts a comeback for the format, as content distributors, including streaming services, prepare new content for their platforms.
The advertising industry, represented in FilmLA data by commercials and still photography, also saw a quick return to production over the summer. Straightforward public health protocols, small crew sizes and location flexibility were once again key, FilmLA found. Immediately following the resumption of filming, these genres played an important role in testing the compatibility of the county’s COVID-19 protocols with FilmLA’s streamlined approach to permitting. Permit turnaround time has returned to prior efficiency, at around three business days for non-complex shoots.
Scripted television, including TV drama, which was down 73.2%, and TV comedy, down 96.3%, fared far worse last quarter, as did the production of features, down 64.1%. These larger-scale projects, poised to resume now that unprecedented labor agreements were reached in late September, are powerful job creators and essential to the survival of thousands of local businesses that depend on production, according to industry experts.
These high-value projects are also the types of productions that are eligible for the California Film & Television Tax Credit Program. The state tax credit’s Program 3.0 incentivizes in-state production of TV projects and feature films, with several application periods each fiscal year.
Audley emphasized the role of testing, sanitation, physical distancing and use of personal protective equipment for keeping area film sets safe.
“Even while exercising all due caution, we may see a few productions shut down for the sake of worker safety,” he said. “None of this is incompatible with the county’s road to recovery. This is a system set up by conscientious people, working as designed for the protection of Greater Los Angeles.”
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