Strike's effect still stings

First quarter days fall record 23%

The 100-day writers strike left quite a bruise, as it turns out.

Production tracker FilmLA said Thursday that on-location film, TV, commercials and other shoots fell 23% in the first quarter, the sharpest quarterly decline ever recorded. The WGA's work stoppage ran from early November to mid-February, with studios stockpiling film and TV materials before the strike and then shutting down most TV production and some film projects.

"We predicted it would take some time for television production to get back on its feet after the strike," FilmLA spokesman Todd Lindgren said. "Unfortunately, our predictions were accurate. By the end of March -- seven weeks since the strike's end -- permit volumes had not returned to normal."

FilmLA is a private nonprofit that coordinates film-permit operations and neighborhood liaising with production companies throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Although the organization doesn't track non-location productions, its data is considered an accurate barometer of regional industry patterns.

FilmLA recorded 7,547 days of feature film, TV and commercials production, or 28% fewer production days than in the same three-month span of last year, while other categories such as music videos, documentary shoots and student films were off a more modest 11%. A production day is defined as one crew working on a single project at one location during a 24-hour period.

Television productions were off a huge 45% at 2,921 shoots, with dramas, sitcoms and pilots production off 68%, 72% and 77%, respectively. Reality shoots fell 29% but still accounted for more than five out of every 10 days of on-location TV production in the latest quarter.

"Television is the primary production driver in Los Angeles," Lindgren said. "Though some scripted shows returned to film additional episodes after the strike ended, others did not. Every scripted episode not produced represents a loss of million of dollars in production spending."

Feature production represented something of a silver lining in the report, climbing 11% to 2,065 days. FilmLA said the jump "may be linked" to concerns over the ongoing SAG negotiations.

Film and TV production spiked in the months before the WGA strike, and now the industry is getting jittery over the prospect of an actors strike when SAG's contract expires June 30. But stockpiling this time appears limited to studios' feature-film activities, said Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

"They are doing some stockpiling because they are very nervous about what SAG is going to do," Kyser said. "But scripted TV is not fully back into production, and that is probably going to have to wait until June. They're saying, 'Maybe we will get a contract settlement with SAG,' but they're waiting to see."

Kyser said he's optimistic that the industry can avert a second work stoppage and that SAG and its sister performers union AFTRA will secure new collective bargaining agreements in the coming weeks. "I don't think (SAG) will go on strike because there is a lot of dissension within its membership and great pressure from working actors and AFTRA for a settlement," he said.

In the meantime, more than just Hollywood writers have lost significant income from the WGA strike and its ripple effects, the regional economist said.

"It's been a rough time in the film industry," Kyser said. "The people who don't get acknowledged -- but who have been through the ringer -- are all the below-the-line workers in IATSE. We need to a bit of normalcy to get people back to work."