FilmLA report reveals strong demand for LA sound stages, backlots

(FilmLA office receiving approx. 18 applications a day since July)

Today, FilmLA issued its fourth Sound Stage Production Report, updating for the year 2020 the ongoing study of occupancy and utilization of certified sound stages in Greater Los Angeles. The time period covered by this update, marked by unprecedented global filming shut down due to COVID-19, lends special significance to its findings.

As it turns out, not even a worldwide pandemic could reduce occupancy or curtail filmmaker demand for Los Angeles area sound stages.

Across the properties studied by FilmLA, the average annual occupancy rate remained high at 94 percent in 2020, up from 93 percent in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic. While most stage operators reported to FilmLA that they had not lost a single lessee during the Q2 2020 shutdown, those that found themselves with a sudden vacancy also found it easy to attract new customers.

Other findings in the new report include an update on the number of projects shot on stages, broken down by project category, as well as counts of stage and backlot-based Shoot Days (SD)** tracked by FilmLA partners. For the first time, FilmLA’s stage-based project counts include breakdowns of one-hour and half-hour television series by distribution platform.

Notably, just as the total number of projects shot on partner stages declined 47.0percent year-over-year (to 898 in 2020), total stage-based Shoot Days declined 49.7 percent (to 6,191 SD) over that same period.

This is also consistent with the decline in on-location production activity previously reported by FilmLA. In 2020, FilmLA reported a 48 percent decline in on-location Shoot Days (to 18,993 SD) compared to 2019 yields. Studio partners with access to backlots saw significantly higher levels of pandemic-era use.

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FilmLA found that backlot-based shoot days reported by study partners dropped only 15 percent from 2019 to 2020. Many studio partners reported their backlots as full, owing to the preference of many production companies to shoot scenes outdoors in controlled environments whenever possible during the pandemic.

“We predicted that we would see a high level of interest in stage and backlot use on return from LA County’s 87-day pandemic production pause. But that’s not to say it was easy for our partners to say “yes” to filming,” noted FilmLA spokesperson Philip Sokoloski. “Just as we saw with on-location filming, there were new safety-related protocols to apply, parking and people logistics to master, PPE procurement challenges and new costs to absorb. What this data really highlights is the resiliency of an industry unified in its effort to get people back to work.”

Television series production, which has been driving local demand for both film permits and area stages, accounted for 72 percent of all stage and backlot-based shoot day activity, up from 62 percent in 2019. Along with other kinds of projects, partner studios reported a total of 307 television series filming partially or entirely on their stages in:

Show counts were almost evenly split, with 155 one-hour and 152 half-hour

  • Los Angeles is also maintaining a footing in a global race to build new sound stages and
    expand studio inventory.
  • While tracking global stage development was outside the scope of its report, FilmLA Research is currently tracking fourteen new studio projects and/or studio expansions underway in Greater Los Angeles.
  • This includes the current expansions at the Universal Studios lot and CBS Television City (“TVC 2050”), and the planned construction of new stages on the Warner Bros.’ Ranch.
  • If all of these projects are built, the count of certified stages in the region would increase
    by approximately 27 percent, and square footage by an unknown but considerable sum.
    FilmLA will report on these developments in future report installments.

FilmLA’s report is made possible by a unique data-sharing partnership with a select group of 13 studio partners, who by entrusting FilmLA with sensitive business information, help to bring the local production picture into clearer focus.

These partners, which include the six major Hollywood studios and seven large independent operators today control 3.7 million of the estimated 5.4 million square feet of certified stage space available in Los Angeles County – a total of 68 percent of the local market.

Those with an interest in reading FilmLA’s full report can download it from the website.

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