Has Los Angeles Become Too High Maintenance for Hollywood?

On July 1, two months into the writers strike, FilmL.A. rolled out rate hikes on a slew of fees to obtain permits to shoot in the region. Some of the increases, like with application fees and authorization to shoot at certain locations, were tied to inflation. Others — for rider, photo and notification fees — represented markups of roughly 8 to 17 percent. The agency also introduced a host of entirely new administrative fees for complex filming requests, including for drone, helicopter and special effects use, lane and street closures, and simulated gunfire.

Among the service pricing changes were additional limitations imposed by the guidelines that may further aggravate location budgets. A permit that used to accommodate up to 10 locations for $863 over 14 consecutive days now allows for only five locations per permit for $895 over seven consecutive days. This could cause some permitting costs on large-scale projects to triple, depending on the duration of the shoot and the number of shooting locations.

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While the fee hikes might not be a deal-breaker in and of themselves, they constitute another incentive in a growing list of reasons for productions to film in other areas.

“Are these massive numbers? No,” says a location manager, who’s worked on major productions. “But it’s also what makes people think, ‘Why don’t we shoot this in Canada?’ ”

He stresses, “L.A. is already so film-unfriendly.”

In a statement, FilmL.A. president Paul Audley said, “With an eye toward the needs of lower-impact filmmakers, we did away with the one-size-fits-all pricing model that previously had all productions, regardless of their size, complexity and community impact, paying the same rates” after research found that “filmmakers with smaller, less complex projects were effectively subsidizing the work of larger ones.”

He added that the reduction in the number of locations that can be applied for on a single permit meets the needs of most productions. According to the agency, 93 percent of permits issued are for five or fewer locations, and 82 percent of all permits last for fewer than seven days.

Against the backdrop of the service pricing adjustments, the procurement of tax credits effectively subsidizing movies and TV shows has essentially become a prerequisite for getting a project greenlit. A handful of historically major production hubs, namely Los Angeles and New York, are falling out of favor as shooting locations as productions opt to shoot in jurisdictions with more generous incentive programs and cheaper labor costs.

“Unless there’s some specific reason to be in Los Angeles, we don’t shoot there anymore,” says a major company’s top production executive. “There is a huge amount of money available in certain venues under certain circumstances where you can get 25 percent more money onscreen for the same dollars or make it for 20 to 25 percent less.”

In an analysis of scripted production, FilmL.A. found that L.A. remains the top filming location in the country for scripted content, but that growth in the region’s total shooting levels remained flat from 2021 to 2022 even as total industry output increased. Of the 447 scripted TV series released in 2022, 136 of them, or roughly 30 percent, filmed in Los Angeles. This was slightly down from 32 percent in 2021 (129 out of 402 series). But both years marked a steep drop-off from pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, roughly 43 percent of all such shows shot in Los Angeles.

Other areas saw considerably more growth. According to the data, Los Angeles’ loss was Georgia’s and the U.K.’s gain. Those regions saw a 42 percent and 65 percent increase respectively in hosting scripted TV productions.

And while Los Angeles and New York are still the top hubs for features, the number of titles that filmed in those areas declined by 18 and 29 percent, respectively, as it rose by 21 percent in the U.K.

In a nod to Los Angeles effectively further disincentivizing production in the region with the rate hikes, the location manager says, “It’s death by a thousand cuts.”

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