FilmLA’s annual report on film and TV shooting in Los Angeles revealed the full scope of the unprecedented damage to the industry inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Waves of infection surges forced the number of shooting days in L.A. County down to 18,993 days, the lowest seen in over 25 years and down 48% from 2019.
“The impact of COVID-19 on local film production and jobs cannot be overstated,” FilmLA president Paul Audley said in the report, released Wednesday. “With production paused for 87 days and the industry responsible and cautious in returning to work, total annual production fell to unprecedented lows.”
That impact is still being felt this winter, as surges in L.A. hospitalizations have led studios to pause their shooting plans at the urging of local health officials. In the fourth quarter of 2020, FilmLA reported that 7,348 shoot days were logged, representing a 25.8% decrease from the same period last year. But that drop could have been even steeper had it not been for a resurgence in episodic and reality TV shoots, which accounted for 3,996 shoot days this past quarter and was 6.2% higher than the 3,716 shoot days logged in Q4 of 2019. Overall, reality TV shoots saw a 12% increase compared to all of 2019.
Shooting for TV pilots, on the other hand, saw a 61% annual drop, mostly because the prime season for shooting pilots is between March and May, right when the pandemic first hit and forced Hollywood to shut down. FilmLA estimated that nearly 200 TV projects were forced to delay their production schedules, and not all of them have been able to resume because of the increased costs and more complicated logistics of adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols.
Feature films also saw a significant decrease, down 56% from last year with just 1,641 shoot days logged for projects like “King Richard” and “Invasion.”
Overall, it’s a dramatic turnaround from what had been expected at the start of 2020. With the arrival of new streaming services like HBO Max and Peacock at the top of the year, the demand for more streaming shows was expected to push film permit requests in L.A. to record highs. Instead, with the pandemic forcing dramas and other scripted TV shows to postpone shooting, reality TV became a quick substitute for many studios, with shows like “Big Brother” being filmed in L.A. County.
With the vaccination program in Los Angeles now underway, studios are hoping for a steady recovery in shooting days as increased public immunity reduces the number of COVID hospitalizations and eventually allows a return to normal filming sometime in the second half of 2021. But county health officials are struggling to get more vaccines to meet the demand and have warned that unless the supply increases, it will take until 2022 to vaccine all L.A. residents.