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June 24, 2024

On-Location Film Production in Los Angeles Plunges to Near Record Lows Amid Strikes

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Jan 16, 2024

Summary

On-location film and TV production in Los Angeles County plummeted in 2023 to levels not seen since tracking began in 1993, according to a new report. The number of shoot days fell 32% from already pandemic-impacted 2022 levels amid labor strikes by the major Hollywood unions. The outlook for early 2024 remains uncertain as negotiations continue between the studios and the unions. The loss of production is hitting Los Angeles’ economy hard, with billions in lost economic output and wages.

Background

Los Angeles has been the heart of the film and TV production industry in the U.S. for over a century. Pre-pandemic, on-location LA County production generated an average of $30 billion in economic output and supported over 225,000 jobs per year.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit production hard in 2020, but activity rebounded in 2021 and was nearing pre-pandemic levels in early 2022. However, most major Hollywood unions had contracts expiring in mid-2022, and negotiations for new deals stalled. This led to strikes by SAG-AFTRA in October and the WGA in November which brought filming to a near standstill.

By the Numbers

According to a report by nonprofit FilmLA, the total number of shoot days for scripted TV, films, commercials and other types of production in LA County was 18,803 in 2023. This is down 32% from 2022 and is the lowest number since 1993, the first year records were kept. The previous low was 21,000 shoot days in 1995.

The number of shoot days for scripted TV production fell 36% to 10,674 days. This represents just 57% of the previous 5-year average. The decline was less severe but still substantial for feature films (-22%) and commercials (-28%).

Production Type 2023 Shoot Days Change from 2022 % of 5-Year Avg
Scripted TV 10,674 -36% 57%
Feature Films 3,002 -22% 78%
Commercials 3,561 -28% 69%
Other 1,566 -36% 61%
Total 18,803 -32% 64%

An economist estimates that each shoot day supports an average of 150 jobs and generates around $200,000 in economic output through direct spending on wages, goods and services. This implies the loss of nearly 14,000 shoot days cost Los Angeles $2.8 billion in economic activity and 210,000 job opportunities last year alone. This does not account for indirect impacts on related industries like tourism.

Cause

The primary driver of the plunge in production was strike activity by the major Hollywood unions:

  • SAG-AFTRA – Represents 160,000 actors, announcers and other media professionals. They launched a strike on October 4th which lasted 19 days.

  • WGA – Represents writers, authors and digital news workers. They initiated a strike on November 14th which is still ongoing after 2 months.

These strikes effectively halted new scripted film and TV production in the Los Angeles area. Commercial and reality production was less affected.

While wages and working conditions were issues, the key dispute was over streaming residuals – payments to union members when their work airs on streaming platforms. Other sticking points included diversity, inclusion and harassment protections.

Impact

The loss of film and TV production has severely impacted Los Angeles County’s economy:

  • Over 200,000 estimated lost job opportunities for cast, crew and ancillary workers
  • $2.8 billion in lost economic output from direct production spending
  • Hotels, restaurants, hardware stores and many other businesses report drops in revenue of 20-60%
  • Loss of tax revenue for state and local governments

Many experienced crew members and technicians have left for more stable work, with some relocating to production hot spots like New Mexico, Georgia and the UK. This could hamper filming even after strikes end if talent shortages persist.

There is also a concern that without new film and TV content in the pipeline, consumers may turn to streamers overseas for entertainment. This could permanently erode Los Angeles’ position as the production capital.

Outlook

The late 2022 strikes brought filming to a near standstill, resulting in the worst year for on-location LA production since tracking began. The WGA strike is still ongoing as of mid-January 2024, while SAG-AFTRA signed a tentative deal on January 8th that still requires member ratification.

It remains uncertain when scripted production might return to normal levels. Some analysts warn the loss of experienced below-the-line workers could hamper restarts, even if strikes end soon. Others are hopeful a resolution by March could allow the TV development cycle to get back on track in time for fall series and pilot production.

In the longer term, the growth of streaming and international competition will likely accelerate unless relationships between talent and studios can be repaired. While the LA region still offers unparalleled production infrastructure and talent, its position as the undisputed capital for filmed entertainment is increasingly under threat.

AiBot

AiBot

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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