FilmL.A.: Los Angeles Production Rebounding

Improvement comes after years of L.A. losing productions to other locations

Los Angeles has some rare good TV and film production news: On-location production was up 17.6 percent in the city in the first quarter of the year, according to FilmL.A., a not-for-profit group that coordinates and tracks permits for film and televisions productions in Los Angeles.

The improvement comes after Los Angeles lost productions in recent years to New York City, Canada, and increasingly popular locations like Georgia and New Mexico.

In a new report, FilmL.A. tallied 13,361 permitted productions days in the first part of 2013 compared to 11,360 in the same period in 2012. The group said feature productions were up 25.5 percent in the first quarter, for a total of 1,279 days. That may be a good sign for the city because the first quarter is typically a slower season for feature films in L.A.

After a year of losses for L.A. in television production, the first quarter brought gains in many genres. Television posted a 19 percent gain compared to the same period in 2012, and had its strongest first quarter since 2007. The season contains much of pilot season, and if L.A.-based shows are ordered to series, that would mean even more business for the city.

TV pilots were up 37.3 percent, followed by sitcoms, up 36.9 percent, web-based shows, up 35.4 percent, and dramas, up 22.4 percent. Reality shoots grew 2.1 percent.

The TV drama number is critical to the overall health of local filming, because those shows — mainly hour-long, high-end and multiple episodes — employ more people and bring more economic benefits than other types of productions.

As New York and other states beefed up their production incentives last year, the number of TV drama shoots in the L.A. area plunged by 20 percent from 2011 levels, while the filming of reality shows dropped by 11.8 percent.

“We’re viewing the latest numbers with caution and optimism,” FilmL.A. President Paul Audley summarized. “One quarter can’t undo all the troubling declines we’ve experienced, but we’re certainly encouraged to see things moving in an upward direction.”

One reason for the gains – and the caution – is that the TV surge was caused in part by a number of shows and pilots that were either set in L.A. like the CBS pilot "Beverly Hills Cop,"  or other locales – including Washington D.C. and San Francisco – that the city subbed in for. How lasting that impact will be remains to be seen.

California's Film & Television Tax Credit Program contributed to the strong quarter.

“10 Things I Hate About Life” (photo, right), “Dark Skies’ and “Walk of Shame” were among the credit-qualified movie projects that accounted for 13.4 percent of the feature film shoots. Since the first three months of the year are typically slow for movie production, the strong numbers bode well for the rest of the year.

On the TV side, projects that qualified for credits generated 3.5 percent of the total shoots – but 13 percent of the TV drama shoots. Among those shows that shot in the first quarter were “Body of Proof,” “Major Crimes,” “Franklin and Bash,” “Justified,” Rizzoli and Isles” and “Teen Wolf.”

The numbers reflect the stability that last year's three-year extension of the state's tax credit program provided for production companies, according to Amy Lemisch, executive director of the California Film Commission.

"There is real value to a long-running TV drama in terms of jobs and economic impact," Lemisch told TheWrap. "And we've got several that have been here for years now." One would be ABC's "Body of Proof" (photo top), which moved from Rhode Island and is starting its third season in L.A.

A typical 22-episode-a-year network series has a budget of $60 million and generates 840 direct and indirect jobs, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

"Production companies, particularly on TV dramas, are looking for stability and we're now able to provide it," Lemisch said, "at least to those lucky enough to qualify for the program." That was a reference to how much demand for the credits program outstrips supply. In last June's lottery, 28 projects initially were selected from a record 322 applications.

Commercials production slipped a bit but stayed strong, down 0.6 percent from the first quarter of 2012, which was the sector's best-ever.

FilmL.A.'s figures are based on days of permitted production days. There were 13,361 permitted production days overall in the first quarter of 2013 vs. 11,360 in 2012.

In the TV sector, there were 5,091 production days, compared to 4,277 last year, and 539 days for Web-based TV vs. 398 last year. In movies, it was 1,279, compared to 1,019 last year.

The numbers do not include production that occurs on sound stages. Besides movies, TV and commercials, the overall figures include production of documentaries, industrial videos, infomercials, music videos, still photography, student films and miscellaneous productions.