Pandemic Cuts Los Angeles Filming in Half This Summer

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A new FilmLA report reveals a grim portrait of the film industry, but the non-profit is hopeful more productions will resume soon.

Filming may be back but the enduring impact of the pandemic is evident in a new FilmLA report.

Updated data from the non-profit that tracks production in the Greater Los Angeles area reveals that filming in area communities declined by 55 percent compared to last year to just 4,199 shoot days from July through September.

One bright spot, however, was reality TV. Unscripted filming was up 10 percent to 1,159 shoot days. Still, commercials were down 41 percent to 782 shoot days, and together they accounted for 46 percent of all filming on-location. Meanwhile, several scripted projects of scale have planned for a fall return, which will be key to the local industry's recovery.

In September, FilmLA saw multiple weeks of increases in filming activity, receiving around 34 film permit applications each day on average. September also marked the month that television edged out commercials as the source of new applications for the first time since June (commercials, which are often smaller in scale than film and TV projects, were the first productions to return amid the pandemic.)

Reality TV similarly operates with smaller crews and casts, and are often able to easily adjust storyline and location choice. It lead them to return rather quickly alongside commercials after LA County reopened the film industry in mid-June. Reality TV filming has been in decline every year since 2014 in the area, but now FilmLA predicts a comeback for the format as content distributors search for new content to film fill their pipelines after a filming drought.

Of course, scripted television has fared far worse during the pandemic. TV dramas were down 73 percent to 286 shoot days and TV comedies dropped 96 percent to just 28 shoot days. Feature production declined 64 percent to 362 shoot days. But now that the industry's labor agreements were reached late last month, FilmLA predicts more large-scale projects will start up in the coming weeks, if they haven't already.

“The stage is set for a return – not to business-as-usual but to the ‘best-progress possible’ for film production in area communities,” said FilmLA president Paul Audley. “LA loves film, and there is a real enthusiasm to see this work come back, plus real effort on the part of the industry and local public health authorities to see that it does so with care for public health.”