'Ran-away' prod'n stifles L.A. filming

Shooting days hit record low, but TV jumps

Regional film production dipped to its lowest level in years by the end of 2008, with blame laid not on the economy or labor uncertainty but on the loss of projects to other locations.

FilmLA, which provides film-permit services on location shoots, offered that assessment in issuing yearly data for location shoots. In contrast to the dreary film stats, Los Angeles-area television production marked quarterly and annual increases.

Film production dropped 8.1% in the fourth quarter, hitting the lowest level since the group began tracking such activity in 1993, and slid 1.7% on the year. TV production climbed 14.4% in the quarter and 8.4% for the 12 months, with the reality segment up 19% and dramas up 6.9% but sitcoms and pilots off 25.3% and 40.8%, respectively.

"The effects of the 100-day work stoppage early in 2008 impacted the traditional pilot season," FilmLA said.

But the group's recently hired president, Paul Audley, cited another cause for the sharp drop in film production.

"When viewed by production category, the data reveal a changing production landscape in the region, irrespective of short-term impacts from the writers' strike and uncertainty surrounding the actors' contract," said Audley, an attorney and former Connecticut state official who was appointed to his post in October.

"The 7,043 production days logged in 2008 are nearly half of the feature film category's peak of 13,980 production days tallied in 1996," he said. "Most big-budget features are no longer filmed locally (and) with feature film production days being down 10 of the last 12 years, we should stop talking about 'runaway production.' It's 'ran-away production.' "

Audley said California simply "is not competitive in the marketplace."

The FilmLA president also cautioned reading too much good news into the reality-driven climb in TV production.

"Reality programming dominates television production, which is the engine of our local entertainment industry," Audley said. "While it's encouraging to see television's overall numbers finishing in positive territory, the less expensive reality productions sustain a smaller work force and deliver fewer economic benefits than feature films and scripted television."

Commercial shoots also marked big declines amid advertiser cutbacks, FilmLA said. On-location commercial production days dropped 17.4% in the latest quarter and 10.9% on the year.

Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Crop., agreed with Audley's sharp comments about runaway production.

"You have all the other states sweetening their incentives, (but) we're sitting here just watching our entertainment industry slide away and not fighting back," Kyser said. "It's like in the early 1990s during the downsizing in the aerospace industry, when other states were going after our aerospace jobs. Did we do anything? No, we just let it happen. We're just too passive about these things."

The LAEDC will issue its 2009-10 economic forecast for Hollywood and other local employers Feb. 18.