Already coming off a five-year low in 2019, film and television production in Los Angeles is almost assured to bottom out in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, regardless of when features, series and specials start up work again.
“As of today, with the shutdown poised to extend deep into the second quarter, FilmLA analysts predict that local Shoot Day losses are already unrecoverable for the year,” proclaims a report released by the on-location organization on Thursday.
Even with years of now buoyant tax credits from the state, the L.A. Country area was down 18% in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period last year. Then, on that clearly troubled landscape, COVID-19 hit and production came to a halt in mid-March on stages and sets across the region as studios and networks moved to limit contagion – a smash to the solar plexus of an industry that has seen fairly consistent growth over much of the past several years, especially thanks to the rise of streaming services.
“As we are already well into Q2 with a 100% decline in production, and with that situation unlikely to change until June, if then, we predict that no matter when production returns to LA in 2020 and at what level, the entire year will finish deep in the red,” notes Film L.A. Communications boss Philip Sokoloski to Deadline in the bluntest of terms.
Today’s figures from the Labor Department that another 4.4 million people signed up for unemployment benefits because of an essentially shuttered economy under wide spread stay-at-home orders, now put those out of work at 16% or 26.5 million – a figure unheard of in America since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Unlike the era of Gold Diggers of 1933, Hollywood has taken a bloody body blow in this health and economic crisis. Production is closed, as are almost all theaters, which were full during the Great Depression.
While a spattering of the industry like writers and some post-production staffers are still working remotely, mass layoffs, schedule halts, big pay cuts and corporate furloughs have left thousands looking at some very hard times. Compounding the stress for Tinseltown workers is the fact that the Golden State’s Employment Development Department has been overwhelmed and many are unable to even file for Unemployment Insurance, let alone receive a check yet more than a month after production ceased on TV and film projects.
“FilmLA joins with all of Los Angeles in prioritizing the health and well-being of our communities during this unprecedented challenge,” the permit processing agency’s president Paul Audley said with today’s harsh Q1 report. “Our concern extends also to the economic security of local families, including the nearly one in five Angelenos with ties to this business and the thousands of small businesses they support. Our thoughts are with all most closely and seriously affected – whatever the uniqueness of the circumstances.”
With TV taking the biggest hit before the plug was pulled completely on March 20 with both the city and county of L.A. putting safer-at-home measures in place to flatten the curve of new coronavirus cases, the region was already down to 7,252 Shoot Days overall from the beginning of the year to last month. That’s compared to 8,843 SD in Q1 2019. with small screen productions falling 20.6%.
Overall, Film production was relatively stable up until the mass shutdown, with a mere 6.1% dip at the start of this year in contrast to Q1 2019.
In a region where TV production makes up around 75% of filming on sound stages, TV comedy cratered 53.9% in Q1 2020 from Q1 2019, TV Drama slide 25.7% and the ever declining TV pilots were down 13/1%. It should be noted that in this era of straight-to-series orders, pilots season usually kicks off in mid-February, so the COVID-19 situation knee capped the process pretty early. On the flip side, TV reality production was up 11.9% says FILMLA, putting emphasis on the flood of new streamers coming online this year getting projects ready for their respective launches.
As the state, county and city contemplate how the economy and the media industry could reopen in the coming weeks, the medical numbers look stark. As of yesterday’s data for the L.A. County Public Health office, there are 16,435 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the region with 729 official deaths.