It isn’t the halcyon days of the mid-1990s, but production in Los Angeles has had a good 2013 so far. For the third quarter in a row, on-location filming is up compared with 2012, FilmL.A. said today. There was a 9.5% increase over the same July to September period last year according to a third quarter report the non-profit permitting group released Tuesday. That translates into 11,792 permitted production days compared to 10,773 in Q3 2012. Not that FilmL.A. is opening the champagne. “The small incremental increases are a good sign, but they do not represent a true recovery. We are not seeing a return of the high economic value productions to Los Angeles. Instead, we are seeing an increase in new media, like direct-to-web production, and very low budget films,” FilmL.A. president Paul Audley told me today. Low-budget film or not, Feature production in L.A. County and nearby regions saw the biggest bounce among the categories that FilmL.A. tracks. The category had a 19.5% jump (1,959 PPD) over Q3 2012. Perhaps more telling in this era of runaway production is that Feature production in Southern California beat its 5-year quarterly average by 14.6%. Now that’s still a steep fall from the record-setting 13,980 total PPD of 1996 and before states like Georgia and Louisiana ramped up alluring tax incentives programs to attract production. At the same time, the $100 million California film and TV tax credit program, which was introduced in 2009 to combat runaway production, was responsible for about 5.5% of this quarter’s increase with pics like Jersey Boys and Best Man getting the credit.

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Unlike the rise it saw in the 2013 2Q, overall TV production slipped 3.6% from 3Q 2012 to 4,091 PPD. Not that it was all downward. TV drama had a boost of 6.5% over 3Q 2012 and while it was outside pilot season, TV Pilots saw a surge of 89.4% over the same period last year. The largest decline was in Web-based TV production, which was down 15.6% from last year. On-location permitting for TV sitcoms was down 15% and down 14.3% for Reality TV. The state’s tax credit program, which announced this year’s qualified projects in early June, helped generate 18% of all TV drama PPDs with shows like Major Crimes, Rizzoli And Isles and the now cancelled King And Maxwell among the recipients. And that credit is having a positive effect with FilmL.A. chief Audley predicting that TV drama would have been down 13% in 3Q without it. Commercials were up 17.7% over 3A 2012, its best showing since FilmL.A. started the category.

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Today’s news from FilmL.A. foreshadows what could be a big increase in non-permitted production in LA in the next few years. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved NBCUniversal’s massive Evolution Plan in late April and gave the final green light to Disney’s expansion of Golden Oak Movie Ranch in late August. More local production is a solid component of both the $1.5 billion Evolution project and the nine-figure Disney-ABC project. Both include big production and soundstage facilities being newly built with the expectation that they will be well used. Also both projects are estimated to create tens of thousands of jobs and generate billions in local economic activity during construction.

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