On-location filming in Los Angeles began a slow rebound in the third quarter of 2020. Despite the improved production outlook, FilmLA president Paul Audley said that there is “No way it will be back at normal numbers this year, or until next spring at the earliest.”
Data compiled by FilmLA, the city and county’s film permit office, shows that on-location feature film shoot days were down more than 64% from the third quarter last year, TV dramas were down over 73%, TV pilots fell more than 90% from a year ago, and TV comedies plunged by 96%. But buoyed by a robust return of reality TV shows and a solid comeback by commercials, on-location shooting days were only down 54.5% from the third quarter of 2019.
And television shoots, which fell to only 52 shooting days in the second quarter, shot up to 1,799 days in the third quarter – led largely by reality TV shoots, which rose from a mere 30 shooting days in the second quarter to 1,159 in Q3 – a 10% increase over the same three-month pre-pandemic period last year.
TV dramas, which had fallen to only nine shooting days in the second quarter, rose to 286 days in the third quarter, but that’s still down 73% from last year. Nearly 25% of the TV drama shooting days in this third quarter were on shows that received tax incentives from the state, including The Rookie, This Is Us, Good Trouble, Animal Kingdom, S.W.A.T., Snowfall, Lucifer and Mayans M.C. – all of which have been shooting in town.
On-location TV comedy shoot days, which fell to zero in the second quarter, came in at only 28 days in the third quarter – down from 754 days a year ago – while TV pilot shoot days, which also fell to zero in the second quarter, only rose to six shooting days in the third quarter – down from 63 days in the third quarter a year ago.
With smaller casts and crews, reality shows, commercials and web-based TV, which are all showing signs of a comeback, don’t generate as many jobs as larger-scale feature film and scripted television projects. “The numbers would be devastating if we didn’t have reality shows and commercials,” FilmLA’s Audley told Deadline. “And although they’re showing good increases, they’re not a reflection of a real recovery in film and television employment. They have been the sustaining factor, but we’re hoping to see a big boost in the employment numbers in the fourth quarter with the return of larger crews for scripted TV shows and features.”
And now that the unions and companies have agreed to safe return-to-work protocols, Audley said that feature films and scripted television are poised to make a strong return to the streets of L.A. “The stage is set for a return – not to business-as-usual, but to the best-progress possible for film production in area communities,” he said. “L.A. loves film, and there is a real enthusiasm to see this work come back, plus a real effort on the part of the industry and local public health authorities to see that it does so with care for public health.”
FilmLA said in a statement, “These larger-scale projects, poised to resume now that unprecedented labor agreements were reached in late September, are powerful job-creators and essential to the survival of thousands of local businesses that depend on production.” These high-value projects are also the types of productions that are eligible for the California Film & Television Tax Credit Program. The state tax credit’s Program 3.0 incentivizes in-state production of TV projects and feature films, with several application periods each fiscal year.
FilmLA said that in September, it saw multiple weeks of business activity increases, receiving on average around 34 film permit applications per day. September was also the month that television edged out commercials as the source of new applications for the first time since June.
“That reality TV emerged as the bright spot for LA’s summer filming season is unsurprising,” FilmLA said. “Operating with smaller crews and casts and the freedom to easily adjust storyline and location choice, reality projects came online quickly after L.A. County reopened to filming in mid-June with robust health protection protocols in place. Although reality TV production peaked in Greater Los Angeles in 2014, and the category has declined each year since then, FilmLA joins other industry observers in predicting a comeback for the reality TV format, as content distributors, including streaming services, pipeline new content for their platforms.
“The advertising industry, represented in FilmLA data by commercials and still photography, also saw a quick return to production over the summer,” the permit office said. “Straightforward public health protocols, small crew sizes, and location flexibility were key. Immediately following the resumption of filming, these genres played an important role in testing the compatibility of the County’s COVID-19 protocols with FilmLA’s streamlined approach to permitting. Permit turnaround time has returned to prior efficiency, at around three business days for non-complex shoots.”
Audley also emphasized the role of testing, sanitizing, physical distancing and PPE use for keeping film sets safe. “Even while exercising all due caution, we may see a few productions shut down for the sake of worker safety,” he said. “None of this is incompatible with the county’s road to recovery. This is a system set up by conscientious people, working as designed for the protection of Greater L.A.”
Commercials, which fell to only 58 shooting days in the second quarter, rose to 782 days in the third quarter – down 41% from the third quarter last year. Web-based TV, which plummeted to only three shooting days in the second quarter, popped back up to 123 days in the third quarter – down over 64% from the third quarter last year.
A FilmLA category called “Other” fell nearly 61% to 1,266 shooting days in the third quarter compared to the same period last year. This includes student films, still photography, music videos and industrial videos – and employs relatively few cast and crew members.
FilmLA’s on-location production figures are based on days of permitted production within the jurisdictions served by FilmLA. One “Shoot Day” is defined as one crew’s permission to film at one or more defined locations during all or part of any given 24-hour period. This measure determines how many days of work film crews perform during a given time period. FilmLA data does not include production that occurs on certified sound stages or on-location in jurisdictions not served by FilmLA.