California remains the world’s top film locale for a third year in a row, though in 2015 for the first time on record the state did not host any of the 25 top-grossing live-action films. The latest production reports released today on film and also TV from FilmLA, the city’s film office, are filled with similar good-news, bad-news scenarios.
California led the world last year with 19 of the 109 top-grossing films having been shot here. The UK was second with 15; followed by Georgia and Louisiana, which had 12 each; and Canada with 11. New York, which ranked second in 2014 with 13 feature films, fell out of the top five production centers in 2015 with seven.
But the only films with budgets over $100 million that were produced in California last year were animated projects; none of the large-budget live-action films were produced primarily in California. The state was also a distant second to the UK in terms of production spending, according to FilmLA: The 15 films shot in the UK generated $1.63 billion in production spending there, while the 19 in California generated less than half that amount at $720 million. On average, each of the California-made films pumped $37.9 million back into the local economy, compared to the $108 million generated by each film shot in the UK.
Of the more than $7 billion in direct production spending by the 109 top-grossing films last year, less than 10.2% was put back into California’s economy. By contrast, the UK got 23% of the worldwide production spending.
As measured in shooting days, on-location feature film production decreased 4.2% last year to 4,344 days, down from 4,535 in 2014, which was down from 4,678 the year before.
Local on-location feature production peaked in 1996, just as Canada was introducing its first film incentives program (thanks to the “cultural exemption” contained in the NAFTA trade agreement that allowed Canada to subsidize its film and TV industry while undermining ours). Several U.S. states then jumped on the incentives bandwagon, sending on-location feature film production in Los Angeles into a tailspin. A total of 36 U.S. states and two dozen countries now have programs in place to lure feature projects away from California.
California’s 2009 incentives program helped stem the flow of runaway production. “Were it not for the program’s existence,” FilmLA says, “2010 would have surpassed 2009 as the category’s worst year on record.” The original program, however, was hamstrung by a $100 million annual cap. By the end of the original incentive program in 2014-2015, roughly 90% of film tax credits were dedicated to ongoing TV series under the program.
Under the new program, which took effect last year, the annual cap of available film tax credits was increased to $330 million, with $115.5 million dedicated to feature film projects each year.
The TV production side offered better news. Los Angeles-based on-location TV production increased 9.5% last year to 15,706 shoot days, and is up 39% since 2011. Production spending on TV pilots – the incubator of series television – has been in sharp decline in recent years, however. In 2012, 46% of all production spending on pilots was spent in Los Angeles; last year, it was only 31%, though that was a slight improvement from 2014, when it fell to only 30%.
During the 2014-2015 development cycle, 91 television pilots were filmed on Los Angeles streets and stages. New York was a distant second, with 25 pilots; followed by Vancouver, with 16; Atlanta and Toronto, with nine each; and Louisiana, with eight. No other location hosted more than five pilots.
The number of one-hour scripted drama series shooting in the state stands at 53 – the best showing in five years, up from 48 last year and 45 the year before. The increase is from network drama production, while cable drama production is holding steady.
Last year, 90 coveted one-hour drama projects were shot outside the state, where the availability of incentives and production infrastructure are key factors influencing where pilot producers choose to film. As in prior years, some form of film production incentive was available in every one of the non-California locations used during the 2014-2015 development cycle. With the exception of Toronto and Louisiana, California’s top competitors saw a decline in the number of pilots produced last year. New York and Georgia, which had seen remarkable growth in recent years, saw declines of 29% and 33%, respectively.
On the comedy side, L.A. remains the king. In 2015, local on-location television comedy production increased 100.5% compared to the previous year – to 2,268 shooting days from 1,131. L.A. accounted for 77% of all comedy pilots produced in the U.S. last year – up from 76% the previous year. Seventy comedy pilots were shot here, and until recently, generous film incentives in other locations have not been successful at siphoning comedy production from L.A. An exception to that rule was New York, but after four straight years of growth, New York declined for the first time in five years, with eight comedy pilots in 2014-2015 compared to a record high of 11 the prior cycle. The remaining 13 comedy pilots that filmed outside of L.A. or New York shot in seven other locations, with Vancouver and Atlanta leading the pack with four apiece.
“This report highlights both the aggressiveness of our competitors for feature film projects and the effectiveness of California’s Film & Television Tax Credit Program,” said FilmLA president Paul Audley. “Compared to its competitors, California is attracting big production investment with modest incentive outlays.”