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Lack of Drama Hurts State’s TV Production Activity

On-location television production is expected to be lackluster for the second half of the year, according to FilmL.A., the agency that coordinates location permitting. The main reason: fewer one-hour dramas are based in Los Angeles. Those shows often tend to film outside of the studios and soundstages, the agency said. Industry insiders say the weakness in on-location television production is further proof that the entertainment industry is losing filming business to states offering tax breaks. “As they make (filming) decisions, the accountants and networks are relying on those incentives to balance their budgets,” said Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A. This is particularly harmful for California, because dramas tend to have big crews, resulting in more money staying in state, he said. For the first half of the year, television series filmed for 8,725 permitted production days, according to numbers compiled by FilmL.A. That is a 2.3 percent decrease from the 8,933 permitted production days in the first six months of last year. (A permitted production day allows for filming of a single project at a specific location during a 24-hour period.) The FilmL.A. data only includes information about on-location filming. It does not include shows on studio backlots or on soundstages. Industry veteran Tony Salome said a typical one-hour drama can shoot two to three days on location out of an 8-day production cycle. Salome serves as location manager for “NCIS: Los Angeles,” an action series that films an atypical five to six days off a soundstage. “We highlight the city of L.A., so we want to be on the streets,” Salome said. “NCIS: Los Angeles” is among 104 network and cable shows that did some filming in the city and is scheduled to air in the upcoming television season. At total of 103 shows filmed here for the 2010-11 season. This year, there were 10 fewer dramas than the prior year. For both networks and cable, 35 one-hour dramas were not renewed for the fall. The annual study on television pilot production by FilmL.A., released in June, shows that the state of New York and Canada are popular destinations for production companies. New York attracted 10 one-hour pilots in the 2010-11 season. That is the same number of one-hour pilots that were shot in Los Angeles. Other locations, both domestic and overseas, combined for 16 one-hour pilots, the study showed. When a pilot is filmed outside California and the show is picked up, the series usually is shot outside the state, as well. Not every show has the luxury of “NCIS” in that it can stay in Los Angeles, Salome said. “If you are not set here, you can be shooting it somewhere else,” Salome said. Tax incentives California has a tax incentive program, but it doesn’t match up to what New York, Canadian provinces and other states offer, Audley said. “Until California competes, we will not see a return to the degree it once was,” Audley said. The $100 million allocated for California’s tax incentive program goes quickly. For those films or series not chosen to receive funds, there remains the option of leaving. That’s what “The Lying Game,” a series for ABC Family, did when it decamped for Texas, said Amy Lemisch, director of the California Film Commission, the state agency that oversees the incentive program. Only one-hour shows made for basic cable and shows moving to California from out of state qualify for the state tax breaks. That’s what happened this year when “Body of Proof” relocated from Rhode Island. The state incentive program is set to expire in 2012, but legislation is before lawmakers in Sacramento to renew it for another five years. Unless California wants to risk losing more television production, the incentives are necessary, Audley and Lemisch said. “Look at New York, they are having a boom year for television and it’s all due to their tax credit programs,” Lemisch said.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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