Los Angeles is associated with movie-making, but it’s reality television that dominates on-location shooting here.
That’s according to a new Business Journal list of production companies ranked by location-day shooting. The ranking is based on data from FilmLA Inc., a non-profit organization that handles film permitting for Los Angeles.
The top 10 on-location permit holders last year were for TV shows, not movies, and most of the productions were reality programs.
No. 1 on the list is MTV/New Remote Productions, which earned its place thanks to filming for shows such as “The Hills.”
“There’s a lot of unscripted programming there,” said Todd Lindgren, vice president of communications at FilmLA in downtown Los Angeles. “Television is the bread and butter of the L.A. production industry, and reality TV makes the up the bulk of that.”
Of course, reality TV is a low-budget form of production, translating into less employment, lower spending with vendors and less tax revenue.
“Our hope would be to see the top production companies be feature film companies or one-hour TV dramas as opposed to reality programming,” said Lindgren. “Economically, hour dramas are bigger stimuli than reality shows.”
Mark Cronin, a principal at 51 Minds Entertainment, the No. 9 company on the list, said that reality TV shows get more permits than traditional scripted shows for the simple reason that they film fast, often using several locations a day.
“A scripted project spends a whole day in one location,” Cronin said. “We don’t do that. Once the cameras start rolling, we shoot in real time. So we can burn through three or four locations very quickly.”
Jof Hanwright, a location scout in Los Angeles, said movies and TV commercials go wherever they need to, whereas TV shows establish a base of operations and film nearby.
The shows require specialized equipment and talent and the only cities that can supply them on the West Coast are Vancouver, Canada, and Los Angeles.
“The lion’s share of work in Los Angles is movies of the week and episodic television because it’s not yet feasible to move a TV show,” he said.
Lindgren said the most popular neighborhoods in Los Angeles for filming last year were Griffith Park and downtown.
Hanwright cited downtown Los Angeles, Pasadena and the streets around the studios in Burbank and Glendale.
Cronin said his company shoots in Los Angeles because the cast and crew all live nearby. The locations can vary from a house in Encino to businesses in Manhattan Beach.
Historically, the high point for location production days in Los Angeles was 1996. That was about the time that Canada and many states set up tax incentive programs specifically to pull shows out of California. Two years ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a statewide tax credit to try and reclaim these so-called runaway productions, but the measure hasn’t impacted the list yet.
“California got into the incentives business in 2009, but we gave them a decade head start elsewhere,” Lindgren said. “This would have been a different list if California and Los Angeles specifically had not lost the big feature films to other locales.”
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