Pair of Television Pilot Reports Reveal Impacts From State Film Incentives

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Earlier this week, FilmL.A. released its fourth report from its six-year study of television pilot production.  The report presented a mixed bag of findings:

Out of those 169 [pilot] projects, a total of 87 television pilots were produced in the Los Angeles region. By one measure, this is second-largest annual take in Los Angeles history, totaling eleven projects more than the prior cycle and just fourteen fewer than L.A. handled during its peak year ’04/’05… [but] in ’10/’11, more pilots were produced outside of Los Angeles than in any prior year.

Indeed, the number of pilots filmed elsewhere caused a staggering decline in Los Angeles’ share of pilot production:

… Just six years ago, the L.A. region captured as much as 82 percent of all television pilots made in a given year. Now, it captures only 52 percent.

In what shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, FilmL.A. attributed the presence of film incentives in other states and nations as the primary cause of the decline:

Notwithstanding the recent increase  in cable pilot production, Los Angeles continues to lose pilot production share due to the impact of out-of-state financial production incentives. The availability of financial production incentives is a key factor influencing where pilot producers choose to film.

During the ’10/’11 development cycle, 87 television pilots were filmed on Los Angeles streets and stages. Another 82 pilots — of which 67 were coveted one hour drama projects — were produced outside the region in competing jurisdictions.

According to FilmL.A.’s research, some form of production incentive was available in every one of the non-California locations used during the ’10/’11 development cycle.

The following table from the report shows where the pilots (and what type the pilots are for recent years) have been going:


The other locations mentioned in the report included Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New
Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Washington. Non-U.S. locations included multiple Canadian Provinces, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Puerto Rico and New Zealand.

FilmL.A.’s report also touched on the economic importance, in terms of money spent in the local economy and job creation, of hosting pilot production:

According to industry sources, 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). Presentations, which are sometimes made in lieu of pilots, are cheaper yet at $150K each.

Based on these figures, FilmL.A. estimates that approximately $249 million was spent on television pilot production in Los Angeles during the ’10/’11 development cycle.

So, what can Los Angeles and California do to recapture its share of television pilot production?  Perhaps it can learn a lesson from the State of New York.  Each year, the New York Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and TV Development releases a report on the progress of New York’s film incentive, which offers analysis and recommendations on how to improve the program to capture and/or retain more film and television production.

New York spends a staggering amount of money to retain its share of film and television production.  Before 2011, the annual cap on the state’s film incentive program was $350 million.  For 2011, the cap was raised to $420 million annually (compared to California’s $100 million annual cap).  Why was the cap raised to $420 million?  According to the 2010 report, the cap was increased to capture a significant share of television pilot production (emphasis added):

The $350 million was fully committed within nine months (April 23, 2009 to January 20, 2010). As a result, for most of the last quarter of the fiscal year, the program had no funds to commit and major projects were lost to other states. The most damaging loss came at the expense of pilot season. Pilots are critical because they lead to television series, one of the largest and most stable sources of employment and economic benefit to New York.

For any number of reasons – they run their creative course, key cast members leave, etc. – several television series are canceled each year. Without a strong annual showing of pilots, New York cannot replenish its supply of television series. In addition, series, with their potential for multi-year commitments for hit shows, are much less likely to locate where there is uncertainty about the future of a competitive tax credit program; producers need to know from the start the credit will be there two, three, or four or more years out. The bulk of pilots are contracted and shot in February and March.

In 2008, when the credit was fully funded, 20 pilots shot in New York. In 2009, however, only four pilots managed to apply before the funding was exhausted. As a result, New York will host fewer series in the coming year, even assuming that the program is provided with funding for this next fiscal year. Each year that New York loses its pilot season, the number of series that will be based in New York will decline dramatically, resulting in a loss of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in direct spending.

As the chart above shows, New York’s plan was a spectacular success.  The number of television pilots increased from 5 in 2009/10 to 17 in 2010/11, a whopping 240% increase!

A new report released late last night brought some fantastic news for Los Angeles and California.  Despite the existence of strong film incentive programs elsewhere, Los Angeles continues to pick up new shows for series, according to Deadline:

However, when the dust settled after the upfronts, six newly picked up drama series moved production to Los Angeles, including Ringer and Prime Suspect, giving LA a 8-to-6 edge over New York.

While California’s TV tax credit does not apply to new broadcast series (it does to broadcast series filming elsewhere that want to move to LA, which triggered the upcoming relocation of ABC’s Body of Proof from Providence to LA), uncertainty over the future of such credits in other states, including Texas, probably played a part in some moves to LA.

Indeed, according to Deadline, projects are unexpectedly coming back to California from places like Texas, North Carolina, Canada, Miami and yes, even New York!

deadlineTo all the California cast and crew members lucky enough to land a job on one of these relocating shows, congratulations!  Now, if only we could have kept the pilots here in the first place!

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