Stockpiling evident as Q2 production surges

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It's official: Studio stockpiling shaped a 21% surge in Los Angeles-area production days in the second quarter compared with the same period a year ago.

Film L.A. said newly released stats show a clear link between preparations for a possible strike in Hollywood and a ramp-up in film and TV activity.

The WGA, currently in negotiations with studios, has a contract expiring Oct. 31, and the DGA and SAG both have film and TV pacts set to expire June 30.

All of the talks are expected to cover difficult issues -- like what to do about Internet residuals -- and many see the prospect of an eventual work stoppage. So even before the Film L.A. report quantified things, studios appeared to be girding for the battle.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that the studios have been hurrying film projects into production, ordering extra episodes of hit TV shows and developing reality programming to be used in case a strike interrupts production. The production surge has been noted both locally and in Canada, where soundstages are operating full tilt despite a strong Canadian dollar (HR 7/25).

"The second-quarter surge is consistent with activity we have tracked in other periods preceding contract negotiations," Film L.A. president Steve MacDonald said. "We may be seeing a repeat of what happened in 2001, when production rose prior to labor negotiations and then dropped significantly after the negotiations concluded."

That's also the pattern predicted by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. when it released a recent forecast showing an upsurge in entertainment employment this year and a downturn in 2008 (HR 7/18).

Film L.A., a private nonprofit whose board includes management and labor representatives, among others, helps producers navigate film-permitting processes and neighborhood issues.

"Production tends to increase in relation to the possibility of a labor action," MacDonald said. "While no one knows for sure how the current round of negotiations will proceed, the rise in 2001 was offset by a subsequent drop."

Film L.A. said total on-location production days for film, TV and commercials jumped 1,681 permit days year-over-year to 9,534 in the latest quarter.

Also:

-- Feature film days jumped 568 days, or 29%, to 2,514.

-- TV production days increased 873, or 19%, to 5,387.

-- Commercials rose 240 days, or 17%, to 1,633.

"Pilot production was likely not a significant factor in the (TV) gain," Film L.A. said.

There was only one more pilot produced in Los Angeles in the latest February-May pilot season for a total of 82, officials said. Two years ago, 101 pilots were shot locally, FilmL.A. noted.

Nationwide pilot production actually dropped for the second consecutive year, with 100 recorded during the latest pilot season, compared with 120 over the same period last year, according to the group.

Film L.A. also broke down TV production by genre.

Sitcoms, representing less than 10% of on-location TV production in Los Angeles, spiked 71% in the latest second quarter. Dramas, representing 22% of local TV production, climbed 5%. And reality TV -- now comprising 46% of all local location shoots -- continued to grow, with a 12% gain year-over-year.

Guilds have tended to shrug off predictions of post-stockpiling employment drops as being part of the normal contract-season cycle.

"I think (MacDonald's) assessment is probably right, that there is accelerated production going on by those who are concerned about management-labor dispute," said Pamm Fair, deputy national executive director at SAG and secretary on the Film L.A. board. "Our membership is working in this time when production is up from the last quarter, and if it ever (slows down), they won't be working those days."

The net effect on SAG members will be "neutral," Fair said.

"(Studios) used to pitch it as lost employment, and it had to be us who said it's offset by employment beforehand," WGA West assistant executive director Charles Slocum said. "But look, it is still a disruption, and my reaction is this: Instead of the studios causing an unnecessary disruption, they should simply work with us at the bargaining table to reach a fair and reasonable deal."

The WGA has had two bargaining sessions to date with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers before a temporary hiatus forced by AMPTP's separate contract talks with the Teamsters. No new negotiating sessions are expected with the WGA until next week at the earliest.

Meanwhile, the Film L.A. report also noted that despite the second-quarter gains, film production was roughly flat in the first half. That's because film production marked a 22% drop in the first quarter.

"Over the long term, feature film production has been down eight of the last 10 years," MacDonald said.
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