FilmLA Chief on Why (and How) Film and TV Production Endures Amid the Pandemic

Eric McCandless/ABC

Danny Trejo and director Jody Margolin Hahn on the set of
'The Conners' episode “Keep on Truckin’ Six Feet Apart.”

Paul Audley opens up about the state of filming in L.A., when we can expect to see normal production levels again and the biggest challenge in bringing the industry back.

FilmLA typically sets up an exhibit booth at LocationEXPO, an annual event for dozens of film commissions, government agencies and production managers around the globe. But like many in-person gatherings in the age of COVID-19, the event, which runs concurrently with AFM, is going virtual. Paul Audley, president of the nonprofit that tracks filming in the greater Los Angeles area, is welcoming the change. Here, Audley talks with The Hollywood Reporter about the state of filming in L.A., when we can expect to see normal production levels again and the biggest challenge in bringing the industry back.

There are a lot of places productions can film now. What is your pitch to have folks shoot in L.A.?

I think one of the biggest advantages for Los Angeles right now is that it has a series of really robust protections in place, and because you can come here and get everything — cast, crew, any kind of supplies you need. Everything is in place. And unlike many jurisdictions, there isn't a quarantine requirement for those cast and crew because they're already here and following the public health guidelines.

What exactly does filming look like in L.A. at the moment?

What we're seeing in greater Los Angeles is about 46 percent of normal as of right now compared with what we'd see in a normal year. The good news is we started to see a return of television and feature films that through June, July and August had really been on the sidelines waiting for all the industrywide guidelines to be completed. So these productions that employ more people and spend more money in the economy have come back, and we expect them to continue working and growing as the year goes on.

Will that subside around the holidays though?

We are actually hearing from our industry partners that in order to do some catch-up, they intend to work straight through the holidays this year, whereas usually they might have taken a couple weeks off. So we think it will be a busy end of the year. It certainly will not, however, be back to normal levels before we hit 2021.

When exactly will we see normal production levels again?

We're all hopeful that the progress on things like vaccines will continue and that by March, if there's widespread vaccination available, then the industry can return to full normal at that point. But I wouldn't anticipate seeing full return to production before late spring of 2021.

What's been one of the biggest challenges in bringing filming back?

The challenge that the [protocols] create is that it's more expensive and it takes longer to do filming than it would have in a normal environment. But everybody seems willing to do that, and it's good to be back at work. What we're hearing from county public health is that the industry has been a model of creating real safe environments for this work to take place, and we've seen very little reports of any kind of problems around COVID. Because they're pre-testing most people, there really haven't been any number of outbreaks on sets that you might think of as spreader events. That just has not happened.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.