By Kevin Smith, San Gabriel Valley Tribune
POSTED: 02/23/14, 12:58 PM PST |
On any given day, film crews can be seen throughout Southern California shooting everything from TV commercials and music videos to on-location scenes for major films.
It’s a big part of the Southland’s economy. And needless to say, the region’s homes, businesses, historic buildings and rural areas offer a wealth of backdrops for TV and film production.
But a large portion of that business has eroded in the face of increasing competition from other regions. States like New York, North Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana are offering bigger tax incentives that make filming in California more and more of a losing proposition.
FilmL.A. Inc., a not-for-profit film office serving the greater Los Angeles area, released a study in January that details the industry’s decline in Southern California.
Consider this: Feature film production in the region has fallen 50 percent below its 1996 peak, and TV drama production is off 39 percent from its peak in 2008.
Feature film production ramped up rapidly around the time FilmL.A. was founded back in 1995 and hit an all-time high in 1996 with 13,980 permitted production days, just as the first film incentive programs were pioneered in Canada.
Now more than 40 U.S. states and 30 countries have incentive programs in place to lure film projects away from Southern California.
And it’s working.
In 1997, most big-budget studio features were produced in California, with many in L.A., the report said. But by 2013, most high-value feature projects were made elsewhere.
In fact, just two of last year’s live-action movies with budgets above $100 million were filmed in the L.A. area. Most local feature productions these days are small, independent projects that offer reduced employment and spending benefits, the report said.
“Feature filming on the streets of L.A. is nothing like it was during the peak in 1996,” said Philip Sokoloski, vice president of integrated communications for FilmL.A. “The films that are shot now are significantly smaller. They are ultra-low budget with very small casts and crews. It’s usually fewer than 40 people on most of those projects.”
That falls well below the level of big feature films, which typically employ 100 to 150 people or more, Sokoloski said.
Film production in the greater Los Angeles area hit rock bottom in 2009 with just 4,976 permitted production days.
Feature production has recovered somewhat, mostly due to smaller, independent projects.
The 2009 introduction of the California Film & Television Tax Credit helped boost local feature production levels in Southern California. Last year, state‐incentivized projects accounted for 9 percent of the region’s 607 permitted production days for total feature film activity, according to FilmL.A.
FilmL.A. researchers also determined that feature production increased 19 percent in 2013 over the previous year. Feature production was also up 21 percent compared to that category’s five-year rolling average. But it was still down 50 percent from its peak in 1996.
Sokoloski said Southern California’s film and TV industries are in a period of slow recovery.
“When other states jumped on the scene with their own tax incentive programs in the early 2000s California took the position that this industry was captive and would never leave,” he said. “But for the last five years some of the major TV productions started disappearing as well.”
TV dramas were long considered safe and in no danger of leaving Southern California because of the region’s world-class production crews, soundstages and vendors, Sokoloski said. But other states have since built soundstages and now have their own network of crews and vendors.
“Less and less needs to be imported to California,” he said.
The most recent spate of new, fall TV shows include several that are filmed outside California. They include “The Michael J. Fox Show” (New York), “Sleepy Hollow” (Wilmington, N.C.), “Betrayal” (Chicago) and “The Tomorrow People” (Vancouver, Canada).
FilmL.A.’s report also notes that reality TV is now the biggest contributor to on-location TV production in Southern California, accounting for three out of every 10 TV permitted production days logged by FilmL.A. But reality TV shows typically spend much less in production costs and employ far fewer people than TV dramas or sitcoms.
“The entertainment industry is a cornerstone of our civic identity and our economy, with 500,000 jobs at stake,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in the FilmL.A. report. “I will cut red tape at City Hall and fight in Sacramento to make sure L.A. is the best possible place for production and ensure that we are always the entertainment capital of the world.”
On Jan. 14, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a policy designed to streamline the filming process in the region and keep more film production here.
The county’s film practices are now based on the recently revised California Film Commission’s Model Film Ordinance.
The county’s policies include timely issuance of film permits, reasonable permit fees, standardized hours for film activities (7 a.m. to 10 p.m. for residential zones), a centralized filming website and waivers that mean a business license will not be required for temporary filming activities.
“The county is already doing most of that,” said Frank Cheng, manager of strategic initiatives with the county’s chief executive office. “The new thing we’re working on is the centralized filming website.”
The California Film Commission recommends notifying residents who live within 200 feet of a project that filming activity is taking place in their neighborhood. Cheng said the county has expanded that radius to 500 feet.
“We are encouraging filming to stay in our region, but at the same time we have to find a balance between what the industry is doing and the best interests of residents,” Cheng said.
Santa Clarita set new film records in 2013 with 1,264 location film days, which generated an estimated $30.5 million in economic benefits to local businesses from location filming alone.
That’s a 38 percent increase in film days and a 28 percent increase in permits compared to the city’s previous record year in 2012.
“This is actually our third consecutive record year,” said Russell Sypowicz, an economic development associate with the city of Santa Clarita. “It’s predominately TV production, but we also have a large amount of feature films. Yes, there is still concern about runaway productions going to other states, but the Santa Clarita Valley has continued to flourish as a film destination.”
Sypowicz said Santa Clarita offers lower permit fees and also lies within the coveted 30-mile “studio zone,” which is more cost-effective for film crews than venturing further away from Hollywood.
A number of TV shows make Santa Clarita their home, including “NCIS,” “Switched at Birth,” “Chasing Life,” ”Operation Repo,” “Franklin and Bash,” “Justified,” “Saint George” and “Wipeout.”
Scenes from the feature films, “Saving Mr. Banks,” “Iron Man 3,” “Horrible Bosses 2” and “2 Guns” were also filmed in Santa Clarita.