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Los Angeles Filming Hit Record Lows Due to Pandemic, Report Finds

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12:00 PM PST 1/27/2021 by Bryn Sandberg New research from FilmLA sheds light on the impact of COVID-19 on local production. FilmLA is offering a more complete picture of how the pandemic has impacted filming in Los Angeles. The organization’s latest reports found that production activity picked up considerably in the fourth quarter of last…

New research from FilmLA sheds light on the impact of COVID-19 on local production.

FilmLA is offering a more complete picture of how the pandemic has impacted filming in Los Angeles.

The organization’s latest reports found that production activity picked up considerably in the fourth quarter of last year to reach 7,34 shoot days — but that compared with the same period in the prior year (9,839 shoot days), overall fourth quarter production was down 25 percent.

The Q4 increase over prior periods in 2020 was largely tied to the return of television production, with an influx of episodic television series and reality TV shows resuming filming in the fall. The 3,996 total shoot days for television in Q4 even surpassed 2019 levels (at 3,716 shoot days), representing a 6 percent increase. Overall, television accounted for 54 percent of total Q4 shoot days, compared to just 38 percent in 2019.

Reality TV, which was logistically easy to get up and running amid the pandemic, was the biggest television driver in Q4. Year-over-year for the quarter, the number of shoot days for reality TV grew from 1,006 in 2019 to 1,946 in 2020 – a substantial increase of 93 percent. Even with the COVID-induced production shutdown from mid-March to mid-June, annual totals for reality TV in 2020 (3,906 shoot days) exceeded 2019 levels (3,484 shoot days).

Scripted TV categories, which were harder hit throughout the year, continued to struggle last fall. TV dramas accumulated 1,228 shoot days in Q4, finishing the year at 2,412 shoot days, a 46 percent drop from 2019 (4,453 shoot days). With only 200 shoot days in Q4, TV comedies took a 46 percent hit year-over-year (479 shoot in 2020 vs. 2,331 shoot days in 2019).

Considering the pandemic struck in the middle of the 2020 pilot season, it’s no surprise that annual TV pilot activity (149 shoot days in 2020) declined by 61 percent. An estimated 198 television projects were forced to shut down between mid-March and the end of May in 2020, including 57 TV pilots. What was looking to be a solid year for scripted TV was quickly reversed, as production schedules were delayed until later in 2020 or even into 2021.

Meanwhile, feature filming, reaching 621 shoot days in Q4, finished last year down 56 percent to 1,641 shoot days. However, Q4 levels for features resemble pre-pandemic levels seen in Q1 of 2020. In addition, commercials filmed in Q4 generated 1,108 shoot days, a loss of 14 percent compared to the same period in 2019. On an annual basis, commercials generated 3,162 shoot days in 2020 versus 5,290 in 2019, for decline of 40 percent.

By the end of the year, on-location filming in Los Angeles mustered just 18,993 shoot days in 2020. This is a 48 percent decline from 2019 (with 36,540 shoot days) and is also the lowest production yield FilmLA has reported over 25 years of service to the region. “In summary, the impact of COVID-19 on local film production and jobs cannot be overstated,” said FilmLA president Paul Audley. “With production paused for 87 days and the industry responsible and cautious in returning to work, total annual production fell to unprecedented lows.”

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