Los Angeles On-Location TV Shoots Back To Pre-Pandemic Levels, But Features & Commercials Still Lag, FilmLA Says

David Robb
·3 min read

On-location filming of TV shows in Los Angeles reached pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2021 – the second quarter in a row that it’s hit that milestone, according to the latest report from FilmLA, the city and county film permit office. On-location shooting days for feature films and commercials still have a ways to go to catch up, however.

But overall, filming in the first quarter was down only 3.3% from a year ago – but 21.7% below the five-year average of first quarters – to just over 7,000 total shooting days in and around the city.

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In the first quarter of this year, TV shows filmed on-location in L.A. accounted for 3,766 shooting days, a 51.2% increase over the first quarter of 2020 – the last two weeks of which saw the industry in total lockdown mode. That’s also more shooting days on TV shows than in the first quarters of 2018 (3,623) and 2019 (3,139) and more than 10% above the five-year average of first quarters dating back to 2017.

After a near-total collapse in the second quarter of last year, on-location TV production rebounded to 1,799 shooting days in the third quarter – when re-opening began under strict safety protocols – and then rose to 3,996 days in last year’s fourth quarter. That topped the fourth quarters in both 2018 and 2019, the last full quarter before the pandemic hit.

Reality shows, TV dramas and pilots all racked up more shooting days this first quarter than last year’s: reality shows were up a whopping 96%, dramas by more than 64% and pilots by over 11%. TV comedies were down nearly 5% and web-based TV shows were down more than 50%.

Television series filming locally during the quarter included Generation, 9-1-1: Lone Star, Mayans MC, NCIS: LA, Colin in Black & White and the now-wrapped Shameless. Nearly a one-fourth of all TV drama shoot days were on projects that qualified for the state’s $330 million annual tax credit program; only 5% of TV comedy shooting days were on qualified projects.

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“The current pace of business resumption is encouraging. Continuing industry adherence to Appendix J protocols, which has made film sets among the safest possible workplaces during the pandemic, remains important even as local vaccine uptake increases,” said FilmLA president Paul Audley, referring to the protocols adopted last year by the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

On-location feature film shoot days were down 13.5% in this first quarter compared with last year’s – 575 days to 665. FilmLA defines a “shoot day” as one crew’s permission to film at one or more defined locations during all or part of any given 24-hour period, and does not include productions shot on certified sound stages.

Films that shot locally last quarter include the Michael Bay thriller Ambulance, starring Jake Gyllenhaal; an untitled David O. Russell project with Robert De Niro and Christian Bale; and Columbia Pictures’ The Gray Man, starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans. Less than 5% of first-quarter shoot days logged for features came from tax-incentivized projects.

Commercial productions generated 993 shoot days last quarter – down 18.2% from the same period in 2020. Ads for Ford, Nissan, Nike, Nationwide Insurance, Remy Martin and Little Caesar’s all shot here during the quarter. Commercials, however, don’t qualify for tax incentives, nor do reality TV shows.

A FilmLA category called “Other” fell nearly 42% to 1,677 shooting days in the third quarter compared with the same period last year. This includes student films, still photography, music videos and industrial videos, which employs relatively few cast and crew members.

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