Overall, on-location filming on the streets of Los Angeles plummeted 19% last year, falling to the lowest level on record, according to data from FilmL.A. Inc, the nonprofit group that handles film permits for much of the L.A. area.
The production sector, a major employer and key facet of L.A.'s signature entertainment industry, was buffeted on several fronts: by a deep recession, which caused studios to release fewer movies and advertisers to curtail spending on commercials; a protracted contract dispute earlier in the year with the Screen Actors Guild; and the continued outflow of film and TV work from Southern California.
Hardest hit was feature-film production, which had been steadily falling over much of the last decade as L.A. lost jobs to Canada and, increasingly, other states such as New Mexico, Louisiana and Michigan that offer lucrative tax credits and rebates to filmmakers.
California's newly adopted film tax credit program helped to blunt the downturn, with production activity increasing by double digits in the second half of the year. About 50 productions have qualified to receive about $100 million in tax credits since the state program debuted this summer.
Nonetheless, the uptick wasn't enough to keep features from falling 30% for the year overall. Feature films accounted for 4,976 permitted production days (defined as a crew's permission to film a single project at a single location over a 24-hour period), the lowest level since 2003 and less than half what it was a decade ago.
Lesson(s) to be learned - just because the money is being made by the studio in term of box office return it doesn't mean that the people working (below-the-line) on those films are making money. That cripples infrastructure, talent pools, and ancillary industries.
This means that people go elsewhere to make their movies / TV / etc...
So what's called for are further tax incentives to stimulate production; more "smaller" movies and perhaps "mini-series special event programming" ; a complete sense of cooperation between all the unions and the studios and an overhaul of the old California First program for indie film and mediamaking. We also need to build infrastructure for these new media distribution and production channels - more shows on the web.
And again, that's not the whole of the solution, but certainly it's a step in the right direction: More media making (finance, development and production) and more avenues to distribute that media. Removal of the systems that are inefficient and strategies to build for the future.
Oh boy, we have a lot of work ahead of us...