As TV pro­duc­tion ramps ever up­ward, there’s a short­age of … ev­ery­thing

The new golden age of tele­vi­sion has brought short­ages of stu­dio space and pro­duc­tion staff “When it rains, it pours. That’s hap­pen­ing more and more of­ten”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - CONTENTS - −Gerry Smith

There’s a tomb­stone short­age in Queens. Eclec­tic En­core Props, a prop rental shop in the New York bor­ough, is down to its last fake me­mo­rial, its stock of more than a dozen hav­ing been signed out to TV shows film­ing in the city. That’s left three se­ries vy­ing for the re­main­ing grave marker. “They all need my tomb­stones be­cause they’re all shoot­ing scenes in a grave­yard in the same week,” says Barry Godin, who works at the store. “When it rains, it pours. That’s hap­pen­ing more and more of­ten.”

An ex­plo­sion in Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion is threat­en­ing to over­whelm film­ing fa­cil­i­ties from Cal­i­for­nia to Canada to Ge­or­gia. Ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing props and con­struc­tion crews, has been scarce dur­ing the spring pi­lot sea­son, when dozens of episodes of would-be se­ries are churned out. Vancouver ran out of stu­dio space, forc­ing casts to work in aban­doned build­ings, such as the for­mer nut-pro­cess­ing fac­tory where this sea­son’s Way­ward Pines on Fox is be­ing filmed.

The boom is fu­eled by the orig­i­nal con­tent am­bi­tions of Net­flix and Hulu and by free-spend­ing govern­ments com­pet­ing to at­tract pro­duc­tion jobs by of­fer­ing sub­si­dies that can make pro­duc­ing a show af­ford­able even for stu­dios on a bud­get. “The de­mand they’re cre­at­ing is enor­mous,” says Ian McKay, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Vancouver Eco­nomic Com­mis­sion.

In Ge­or­gia, the third-most-pop­u­lar state for TV show film­ing af­ter Cal­i­for­nia and New York, higher ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials re­cently cre­ated a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram to fast-track stu­dents to work on TV and film pro­duc­tion crews. That came af­ter pro­duc­ers of the Fox TV drama Red Band So­ci­ety ar­rived in At­lanta two years ago to film but couldn’t find any­one to build their set. They were forced to fly in their own con­struc­tion work­ers. Says Justin Falvey, co-pres­i­dent of Am­blin Tele­vi­sion, a pro­ducer of the show, which was can­celed last year af­ter one sea­son on Fox: “In many of these cities where you have these enor­mous tax re­bates, you’re bat­tling to get the best peo­ple.”

Equip­ment and per­son­nel short­falls some­times oc­cur even in Los An­ge­les, the big­gest city in a state that in 2014 tripled tax credit as­sis­tance for pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies, to $330 mil­lion an­nu­ally. The num­ber of prime­time scripted shows made in the city last year was 129, and the num­ber of film­ing days for TV dra­mas has jumped 78 per­cent, to 4,374, since 2012, ac­cord­ing to Film L.A., a non­profit that pro­cesses film­ing per­mits in the L.A. area. If you’re a sound mixer or a prop maker or a greens­man, who en­sures the fo­liage in a frame looks na­tive to the re­gion where a show’s set,

you’re hired. Team­sters Lo­cal 399 in Hol­ly­wood is even look­ing for peo­ple to drive dress­ing-room trail­ers, known as “honey wagons,” af­ter ex­haust­ing its ros­ter of reg­u­lars.

“Our peo­ple are busier now than they’ve been since the 1990s,” says Ed­mond Brown, the busi­ness agent for Lo­cal 44 of the In­ter­na­tional Al­liance of The­atri­cal Stage Em­ploy­ees, which rep­re­sents about 6,000 en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness work­ers in the L.A. area. “That’s solely be­cause of the tax cred­its.”

The U.S. tele­vi­sion in­dus­try aired a record of more than 400 scripted se­ries in 2015, up from 352 the pre­vi­ous year. In 2016, Net­flix alone will de­vote $5 bil­lion to pro­gram­ming, whereas Time Warner’s HBO plans to spend more than $1 bil­lion on orig­i­nal se­ries.

The pro­duc­tion in­cen­tives war that’s helped cre­ate the short­ages be­gan in the 1990s, when Canada be­gan dol­ing out sub­si­dies to lure stu­dios across the bor­der. Nearly 19,000 peo­ple were em­ployed by the film and TV in­dus­try in British Columbia last year. Aided by a fa­vor­able ex­change rate, the num­ber of pro­duc­tions shot in Vancouver jumped 40 per­cent.

In the U.S., 35 states of­fer pro­duc­tion as­sis­tance, ac­cord­ing to Cast & Crew En­ter­tain­ment Ser­vices, which pro­vides pay­roll and man­age­ment ser­vices for the in­dus­try. Sev­eral states give stu­dios tax cred­its, re­bates, or grants of about 30 per­cent of cer­tain pro­duc­tion spend­ing.

Ge­or­gia’s cur­rent tax in­cen­tives started in 2008 af­ter the mak­ers of Ray, about na­tive Ge­or­gian Ray Charles, de­cided to film in Louisiana be­cause of its sub­si­dies. “It was a wake-up call,” says Lee Thomas, deputy com­mis­sioner of the Ge­or­gia Film, Music & Dig­i­tal En­ter­tain­ment Of­fice. “We said, ‘Ei­ther we do the tax in­cen­tives or we won’t be in the film busi­ness.’ ” Last fis­cal year, Ge­or­gia was the set­ting for 248 film and TV pro­duc­tions, in­clud­ing the CW Tele­vi­sion Net­work’s The Vam­pire Di­aries and AMC’s The Walk­ing Dead. At­lanta is so busy it’s known as Y’al­ly­wood. To ad­dress a space short­age, de­vel­op­ers are build­ing a 270,000-square-foot TV and film stu­dio on the site of a shut­tered for­mer Gen­eral Mo­tors plant.

When Falvey’s com­pany ar­rived in At­lanta to shoot Red Band So­ci­ety, the pro­duc­tion team was set to pay hand­somely for a cus­tom-built set. But with 33 other shows shoot­ing in the city, all the con­struc­tion work­ers were tied up. Im­port­ing an out-of-town crew was a pain, but Falvey says he’s ready to work in At­lanta again. “We were sav­ing $400,000 by not shoot­ing in L.A.,” he says. “Even if we have to fly in con­struc­tion work­ers, that’s still worth it.”

The bot­tom line The U.S. tele­vi­sion in­dus­try pro­duced more than 400 scripted se­ries last year, a record. That’s caus­ing short­ages.

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