First-Quarter Filming in L.A. Plunges 18 Percent Due to COVID-19

Los Angeles Skyline April 15 2020

FilmLA's quarterly production report reflects the damage done to the industry by the novel coronavirus.

A new FilmLA report states the obvious: The novel coronavirus had an unprecedented impact on first-quarter filming in Los Angeles.

But it also reveals more details about just how much of a blow to the industry COVID-19 has been. According to the report, which is released quarterly, on-location shooting in the greater Los Angeles area was down more than 18 percent so far in 2020. And that number, of course, only continues to fall.

Filming actually got off to a strong start in January but began to slow in March following a series of voluntary cutbacks and then restrictions on public gatherings. The 1,091 local productions filming in February dwindled to 644 projects in mid-March before filming stopped on March 20 when state and local authorities put out “Safer at Home” orders. Those have closed the region to on-location filming until further notice.

With the shutdown poised to extend deep into the second quarter, FilmLA analysts predict that local losses in terms of shoot days are already unrecoverable for the year. FilmLA and its staff have been operating remotely and on a reduced schedule since March 13 — but they are preparing for a rapid return to work once it is safe for production to resume.

"Because we've gone to zero and it will be at zero for all of April and more than likely all of May, the second quarter will also be dismal as far as these numbers go," FilmLA's president Paul Audley tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Even if when production returns, it picks up at a greater volume than before, it isn't going to make up for the loss. So the end of this year will be a lower statistical number than we've seen perhaps in the last decade."

According to FilmLA data, overall filming in the greater L.A. region saw an 18 percent decline to 7,252 shoot days from January through March, compared to 8,843 shoot days in early 2019. Headed into April, local production levels were trending 22 percent below their five-year average and continuing to drop by the day.

The hardest hit sector in the first quarter was television, which saw an overall decline of 21 percent. This is significant because, according to a prior FilmLA report, 198 out of 465 (43 percent) of scripted shows produced across all platforms were shot in Los Angeles. Episodic television also accounts for roughly 70-75 percent of filming activity on major soundstages in L.A.

More specifically, TV comedy production decreased 54 percent in the first quarter to 251 shoot days. TV drama production, meanwhile, fell 26 percent to 889 shoot days. Pilot production slipped 20 percent to 87 shoot days for the period, and web-based TV dipped 13 percent to 225 shoot days.

Surprisingly, TV reality production increased 11.7 percent in the first quarter with 771 shoot days (compared to 690 shoot days in 2019). FilmLA analysts suggest this increase may be due to the influx of new streaming services with an increased demand for all kinds of content.

Feature film production, for its part, only slid 6 percent to 665 shoot days in the first quarter, compared to 708 shoot days in 2019. Historically, the features category has been the third-largest category tracked by FilmLA in terms of total shoot days. Films that were shooting in L.A., and also were taking part in California's tax credit program, included the Russo brothers' Everything, Everywhere All at Once and the Will Smith starrer King Richard.