Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A. Inc., has headed the organization that processes permits for on-location film, TV and commercial shoots in Los Angeles County since 2008. The former practicing attorney also has served as the Arizona state director for San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land, and held elective public office as the mayor of Fairfield, Conn., and the appointed post of deputy secretary of state in Connecticut.

Audley sat down with the Business Journal to discuss trends in local production, including the growth of short-form digital content, and the impact of the California Film & Television Tax Incentive Program, which was launched in July 2014 and raised the annual cap on available credits from $100 million to $330 million, and broadened it to include network TV and independent productions.

Los Angeles County saw on-location filming decrease by 2.1 percent in the first quarter of 2017 and by 4.7 percent in the second quarter compared with the same periods in 2016. Do these figures foreshadow continued declines?

The California Film & Television Tax Incentive Program … really kicked in, in 2016. We saw peak production that we hadn’t seen in about 10 years. We think we’ll stay at this higher level of production under this program and

we’ll just watch it wave a little bit at those top lines going forward.

County numbers released in May indicated motion picture and sound recording industries shed 13,000 jobs in the 12-month period ended April 30, an 8 percent year-to-year drop, making entertainment the biggest job-losing sector. Does that concern you?

While 2017 was a drop in total numbers from 2016, it was the second-best year since 2007. We expected to see this happen, that the two things – location production and employment – would track together. The 8 percent drop is what we also see in the production numbers. It’s not a cause of crisis for us.

Can you tell us more about Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Digital Filmmaker’s Initiative set to launch Oct. 2?

The program will create a lower-cost, longer-term permit than we currently provide under our contract with the city.

Our (regular) cost is $660 for a two-week permit. The new permit costs $250 for a three-month permit. It will be a nine-month pilot program (involving seven companies), and during that time we are going to re-evaluate every three months.

Is short-form programming on the increase?

There is a lot more short-form happening, and it makes sense that it’s staying here for the large part. The major distributors of short-form content are all in L.A. There is access to rental equipment, to getting the folks together to do what you want at low cost because all the film schools are here. We remain a real hub for filming in general, but for this particular community, the opportunities are greater

than anywhere else in the world.

Does the program have any special requirements?

The holder of the permit has to go through a training program with FilmL.A., the LAPD, Los Angeles Fire Department, and the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks about how to act under these permits, because they’re not going to have the same level of review that a typical film permit does. It’s an attempt to figure out if there’s a way to involve what has been, frequently, illegal filming.

Will the new permits increase revenue for FilmL.A.?

Because it’s outside the normal system, it means hiring someone. Our fully burdened cost for that person is probably going to run us between $70,000 and $90,000. The permits are not going to cover that. So we’ll need to look at this program going forward, because it’s a new thing for us, too.

After the pilot program, how will you determine who qualifies?

If it works out … it can be broadened to another category, which would be short-form content (that we call) very, very low impact, so (it) allows for lesser review. It’s more about activity than budget. We’re working on defining low impact – right now, it is something that would not raise public concern or attention. It eliminates things like gunfire or fight scenes or squealing tires, any kind of pyrotechnics. Beyond that, we’re looking at cast and crew size, the number of people and amount of equipment that becomes an inconvenience. It’s not about time; it’s about what you are doing with it.

Film and TV producers are reporting a crunch in available soundstage space. What’s going on?

We will be doing a soundstage study that will be coming out, probably in September, that covers not only the major studios but all soundstages in our region, even in jurisdictions that we don’t serve, that does an inventory of what’s happening in them. We’ve commissioned this study largely because of this trend that we’re seeing toward lack of availability. The good news is that the new tax credit having increased the level of production, and now sustaining that level of production, will probably drive construction of more soundstages and more space to film.

Where can producers go in the meantime?

We’re keeping an eye on big-box stores that are closing or that have the big sellout sales, because we know they are still there. The advantage is those come with big parking lots. Some of those places are being used now, even just for base camps. If you have a store with a large parking lot that’s closed even for a few months, they can become very active in staging crews.

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