The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

Los Angeles's share of pilot production falls, while New York's continues to rise

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Los Angeles continued to lose its share of television pilot productions in the most recent season, while New York established itself as the leader for production of one-hour pilots, according to a new report out Tuesday from FilmL.A.    

Of the 203 pilots filmed in the 2013-14 development season, 90 shot in the Los Angeles area, giving the region a 44 percent share. Last year, L.A.’s pilot production share was 52 percent, and six years earlier, 82 percent, according to the report.  

(Credit: FilmL.A.)

Of the 90 pilots shot in L.A., 19 were for hour-long dramas, but New York grabbed 24 drama projects and dethroned L.A. as the leader in the drama pilot category. 

“Losing television pilots — and then series — to other North American competitors leads to the destruction of steady, well-paying California jobs,” said Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A., the not-for-profit that issues permits to productions shooting on location in the L.A. area.

“California’s current incentive program makes it hard to attract and retain new pilots and TV series.  The data makes plain why an expanded film incentive is needed to bring this part of the industry back," Audley said.

(Credit: FilmL.A.)

L.A.’s share of overall comedy production in the 2013-14 pilot cycle was 76 percent, down slightly from the 83 percent share it enjoyed last year, but off considerably from the 100 percent share the region captured seven years ago.

The report says pilots continue to create significant economic benefits for whichever city or region can host them. Citing industry sources, the report says the average one‐hour drama pilot can directly employ 150‐230 people for the duration of the project. Typical pilot production costs now average about $2 million (for comedy pilots) and $6 million to $8 million (for drama pilots). 

(Credit: FilmL.A.)

Of course, not all pilots go on to be produced as series, and the ones that are "picked up" for more episodes don't necessarily stay in the location where the pilot was shot. Adrian McDonald, research analyst with FilmL.A., says a show's setting can be an important factor in the long-term location decision — but the real driver is the availability of a tax credit.  

"You look at a show like 'The Whisperers': that [pilot] shot here in Los Angeles, now it's headed to Vancouver for a tax credit," McDonald said. The opposite happened to TNT's "Franklin and Bash," which shot its pilot in Atlanta, Georgia, but moved to Los Angeles for the series' production. Why? "They got the tax credit in California — I think that helped," McDonald said.

One of the report's glaring examples of tax credits driving the action is USA Network's hour-long drama series "Graceland." It's set on the beaches of Southern California, and its pilot was shot in L.A. Its producers applied for the California Film and TV tax credit, but didn't get it.

As a result, the remaining 11 episodes for Graceland’s first season filmed in Florida. On average, Graceland spent more than $151,000 for each day of production in Miami. This represents a loss to California of more than $19 million, including $10.2 million spent on wages, for just this one show.  

One of L.A.'s major obstacles is the size and scope of California's tax incentive program.  It offers up to $100 million per year in credits — less than a quarter of New York's offering — and television pilots and new network dramas can't apply.

A bill to expand the program has passed the state Assembly and is now before the state Senate. Its sponsors have said they want to the new program to cover TV pilots, but haven't yet determined how much extra money they want to add to the tax credit fund.

DOCUMENT: FilmL.A.'s TV pilot study

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