The Return of Film and TV Production
By Flo Mitchell-Brown |
No one can forget March of 2020, when the world ground to a temporary stop. Schools, office buildings, dining establishments, fitness facilities and tourism shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the entertainment industry wasn’t spared. But now, despite ongoing concerns about the contagious Delta variant, film and television production are nearly back to pre-Covid levels in places like New York and California. Other states are rolling out tax incentives and production-cost rebates in the hopes of luring film and TV crews to help boost lackluster economies. (Stay up to date on this topic! Sign up for Production Incentive Updates & Insights from Kathleen Thompson, Head of Production Incentives at ERPS). As entertainment makes its comeback, here’s what you need to know.
The Big Apple wasn’t always home to a thriving entertainment industry. In the 1990s, many TV shows set in New York were filmed in other locations, especially Toronto, due to NYC’s prohibitive costs. Famed television producer Dick Wolf was among the first to rebel against that reality, insisting his original Law & Order drama series be shot in Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs, even though the studio wanted a cheaper California location. New York State passed its first tax credit in 2004, paving the way for a huge expansion of studio space and production schedules. In 2019, New York’s entertainment industry produced over 2,000 film and TV projects, supporting roughly 185,000 jobs while pumping almost $82 billion into the city’s economy, according to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.
Then came Covid. Filming permits were suspended March 21, 2020, and not renewed again until July 1. While 2020 saw the production of only 732 total film and TV shows, the television industry was one of the first to return, thanks in part to strict safety protocols and rigorous Covid testing. More advancements are now being made. “On average, we have the same number of shows [as we did] pre-pandemic,” said Anne del Castillo, Commissioner in the Mayor’s office for Media and Entertainment. “It’s really busy. We have 34 or more projects filming in August in TV, and we are starting to see some feature films coming back.” Among those are Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and HBO’s Sex and the City reboot, both of which have been seen shooting on the streets of Lower Manhattan. In the Heights premiered this June after filming in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood, and Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story, which was shot in Harlem and Brooklyn, is set to debut in December.
The second quarter of 2021 started well for California’s entertainment sector as movie and television production surged to pre-pandemic levels, according to FilmLA. Before Covid, the city enjoyed a monthly average of 9,253 shoot days. Compare that to the shocking 194 total shoot days seen during the second quarter of 2020, as LA locked down and nearly all work halted. But now those numbers are back on the rise, with 9,971 film and TV shoot days recorded between April and June. On-location TV shoots enjoyed a particularly happy surge, recording almost 4,913 filming days in the second quarter of this year compared to 3,360 days during the same period of 2019. That’s important, because production delivers as a huge cash surge for local economies. Some shoots spend close to $250,000 per day via food, permits, rentals and additional costs. “By almost any available measure, the second quarter was good for filming in Los Angeles,” said Paul Audley, FilmLA president. “With local COVID-19 cases rising it’s not clear whether that will be sustainable, but the industry’s commitment to community, cast and crew safety remains firmly in place.”
Franchises like Star Trek: Picard and American Crime Story are among shows currently being shot, along with Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film, The Fabelmans. Some of this spike in productions can be attributed to California Governor Gavin Newsom, who recently boosted film and TV tax credits by $330 million. The Golden State is now offering a whopping $660 million tax incentive over the next two years to increase production while promoting entertainment diversity efforts, with $150 million dedicated to building or renovating LA soundstages. “Those tax credits are really starting to show their usefulness now,” said filming accountant Patrice Weiss. “California had been pricing themselves out of the industry due to higher taxes for a long time, so they added in these credits and, look at that, it’s coming back.”
California isn’t the only state to expand its tax incentive program for big and small screen production. A few other states have improved their incentives programs as the industry heats back up following last year’s hiatus. According to a 2008 National Governors Association brief, “Film and media arts can play a key role in state economic development. As economic impact studies continue to demonstrate the ability of the film industry to create high-paying jobs, stimulate tourism, engage the community, and boost out-of-state spending, many states have recognized the value of investing in this growing industry.” In Oklahoma, where Martin Scorsese is filming his drama Killers of the Flower Moon, lawmakers now offer incentives to productions that shoot in small, rural communities. The Montana Economic Development Industry Advancement Act, meanwhile, includes no sales tax plus a lodging rebate. That state’s current $10 million tax-credit cap will also enjoy a $2 million boost come January. Georgia, dubbed “Y’allywood” by some insiders, has become a major entertainment hub in recent years. The Peach State passed out $870 million in TV and film subsidies in 2019, more than California’s $330 million and New York’s $420 combined. At 30 percent, Georgia boasts the nation’s largest tax credit and was home to 366 filmed productions last year, including HBO’s Lovecraft Country and Amazon’s The Underground Railroad. As the country continues its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, entertainment is doing its best to ensure the shows go on. Here’s to many days of happy and safe viewing.