Strike didn't halt prod'n in L.A.

Filming down only 1% in '07 as reality TV surges

On-location filming in Los Angeles fell 1% in 2007, but if not for the writers strike and the threat of further labor unrest this year, that decline could have been even steeper.

At first glance, the statistics that FilmL.A. are releasing today would appear counterintuitive. But against a long-running drop in L.A. film shoots attributed to runaway production, the strike threat appeared to trigger a surge of film and TV production in the second quarter of last year, which offset some of the long-term declines.

Even though the writers went on strike Nov. 5, the fourth quarter of the year was not immediately impacted, since film and TV production continued with scripts that had been completed before the strike began.

"The strike actually had a limited downside impact on the year-end production numbers for 2007," FilmL.A. president Steve MacDonald said.

However, even though producers and writers have returned to the bargaining table, raising the possibility of a settlement, the ongoing strike is sure to contribute to further downward trends in 2008.

"With all Los Angeles-based primetime dramas and sitcoms shuttered and pilot season stuck in the gate, there's much reason for concern," MacDonald said.

At the moment, 46 primetime dramas and 17 primetime sitcoms that would have been filming in Los Angeles have been shut down. Pilot season, which typically begins in January and continues through May, is on hold. According to Todd Lindgren, FilmL.A.'s vp communications, the city is losing $160 million a week in production spending. And with pilot season threatened, it faces the loss of the more than $300 million usually spent during pilot season.

The news for 2007 would have been worse were it not for the growth of reality TV production, which offset declines in drama series and slow growth in sitcoms.

Shooting days on TV dramas fell 3.4% from 2006 to 2007. Sitcom shoots grew by 11.6% during the same period, but reality jumped 21.2%.

"As a percentage of the overall TV pie, reality TV is nearly 44%," Lindgren said. But reality TV, which employs fewer people and is shot more economically, does not provide as much of a boost to the local economy.

Although there have been predictions that reality TV would step up to fill the void of the shuttered series and sitcoms, that hasn't yet occurred. Production days for reality shoots in the fourth quarter of last year numbered 2,478, up just marginally over the third quarter's 2,374 and not at the level of the year's first quarter, which saw 2,840 days of reality shoots.

Still, on Wednesday, reality was the only game in town, as FilmL.A. issued four permits for reality shoots, while all else was dark.

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

It coordinated permits for a total of 54,871 on-location production days during 2007, compared with 55,399 in 2006.

Feature film production dropped 6.4% to 8,247 permit days, compared with 8,813 in 2006. That annual decline followed a 7.4% drop in feature production during 2006. Continuing a long-term downward trend, film production has been down for nine of the last 11 years.

"The 2007 data is in line with the decade-long downward trend in local feature film production that has occurred as other locales lure production with attractive economic incentives," MacDonald said.

Overall, television production rose 12.9% for the year, up 2,663 days to a total of 23,315 days. Much of that occurred in the first two quarters when TV production was up 29.7% and 19.3% respectively.

Reality TV drove the overall TV gains for the year, increasing by 21.2% on an annual basis.

Commercial production throughout Los Angeles declined by 0.2% for the year, following a 3.4% decline in 2006. "The two-year decline ends a five-year period of growth in local commercial production since production plummeted 24.6% in 2000 following a labor action by actors," FilmL.A. reported.

FilmL.A.'s figures are based on permit applications for days of production in the jurisdictions coordinated by FilmL.A., which account for more than 80% of all on-location production in L.A. County but does not include work on sound stages or on location in surrounding jurisdictions.