FilmL.A. – the not-for-profit organization that coordinates permits for filmed entertainment shot on-location in the City of Los Angeles and other local jurisdictions – released its annual study of television pilot production in the L.A. area.
Each year between January and April, Los Angeles sees a marked increase in local on-location filming. New television pilots, produced in anticipation of May screenings for television advertisers, join continuing TV series, feature films and commercial projects in competition for talent, crews, stage space and sought-after locations.
However, Los Angeles is not the only place in North America hosting pilot production. Other jurisdictions, most notably New York, Vancouver and Toronto, have established themselves as strong competitors for this lucrative part of the business.
During the 2011-2012 development cycle, a total of 152 broadcast and cable television pilots were produced making the past year the second most productive on record. Out of those 152 pilots, 92 projects were filmed in the Los Angeles region. This is the second largest annual tally in Los Angeles history, totaling five projects more than the prior cycle and just nine fewer than L.A. handled during its peak year of 2004-2005.
The city was particularly popular with new comedy shows capturing 91 percent of all pilots in the genre, but the numbers reveal a shift in drama series production away from Los Angeles with just 29 percent of all new drama shot in the region.
For comedy pilots, the figures are largely in line with the region’s recent yields. During the last three development cycles, L.A.’s share of comedy pilots has hovered between 82 and 92 percent of available projects. Drama pilots, however, continue to flee their traditional home. During the last three development cycles, drama pilots were filmed outside the L.A. region by a ratio of more than 2-to-1.
Over the years, other jurisdictions have enticed away much of the L.A. region’s drama pilot production. The availability of financial production incentives and production infrastructure are key factors influencing where pilot producers choose to film.
“We think L.A. is settling into a new normal,” said FilmL.A. president Paul Audley, “Without a more competitive California tax incentive program, Los Angeles will find it hard to increase its share of total TV drama production.”
“Of course, having comedies made in town is a boon for L.A.,” he continued. “It leaves us vulnerable, though. The comedy genre is cyclical and there’s little to prevent single-camera comedies from following dramas out of state. Our economy would be well served were the region to attract a more diversified slate of productions.”
Domestic locales used by producers included Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Non-U.S. locations included multiple Canadian cities (Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal) and Australia.
Some form of production incentive was available in each of the non-California locations used during the 2011-2012 development cycle. Drama producers use incentives to offset the increased cost of long-distance production while affording higher end production values.
As the initial episode of a proposed television series, many pilots are made, but only a few will ever be shown to viewers on broadcast or cable television. Before a series can be greenlit for production, it must first be deemed marketable to television advertisers and foreign distributors. For decades, broadcast networks have courted advertisers in an expensive annual “upfronts” process. Every year in late May, advertisers preview the shows that will be aired on broadcast networks in the fall or early the following year as mid-season replacements.
Pilot production creates significant economic benefits for the hosting region. The average pilot directly employs about 150 people for the duration of the project. Typical pilot production costs, having risen over the years, now average about $2 million (for comedy pilots) and $5.5 million (for drama pilots).
Based on these figures, FilmL.A. estimates that approximately $262 million was spent on television pilot production in Los Angeles during the 2011-2012 development cycle.