Second in a series
Some location managers still struggle to film downtown in front of developer Tom Gilmore‘s properties. But there’s a long history in Los Angeles of filmmakers being hit on for cash to secure film locations. And while Mayor Eric Garcetti is film friendly now, he was once caught putting the squeeze on a major studio to film a movie in his district.
As mayor, Garcetti created the position of Film Czar to cut red tape and re-invigorate local production, and he has lobbied Sacramento tirelessly to pass new state film incentives. But 12 years ago, as a member of the City Council, his requests for money contributed to a payoff culture that his own current deputy Film Czar Rajiv Dalal says has made Los Angeles “the extortion capital of the world for the film industry.”
In 2002, producers sought to close two blocks of Hollywood Boulevard for two days to film a scene for Sony’s Hollywood Homicide, which starred Harrison Ford and Josh Harnett. Garcetti, who represented the Hollywood area, told the studio he might not support the road closure unless they paid $10,000 to $25,000 for a study of traffic problems caused by filming in the area. He asked the studio to pay for the study, according to a Sony spokeswoman at the time. When asked by the media, however, then-Councilman Garcetti said he was going to get other studios to help cover the cost of the study; otherwise, he was going to withdraw all support from allowing crews to film on the famous boulevard.
Back then, Garcetti told Deadline’s Anita Busch, then writing for the Los Angeles Times, that the large number of shoots on the streets of Hollywood had prompted his concern; he also acknowledged that he had told the studio: “We need you to pay directly or consider paying directly for a traffic mitigation plan. We want you to be a part of the solution and, if you’re not, then we’re going to have a hard time signing off on this.”
Because it happened at the eleventh hour, and given the fact that the production already had invested $800,000 in the location shoot, Sony and the production company Two Cops agreed to meet Garcetti’s demand. He later said that what he meant was that he would have a hard time signing off on Sony’s request for the street closure for future productions unless the studio paid part, but not all, of the costs for the traffic survey. At the time, Sony disputed that, saying it was very clear what Garcetti was asking and what it was about — it was specifically for the street closure for Hollywood Homicide. And when pressed about what other studios he had approached to pay for a traffic study, Garcetti admitted that he had never approached any other studio for a contribution.
After reporters began looking into the matter, Garcetti announced that he was dropping his demand that Sony pay for the study, saying, “The film shoots have decreased quite a bit since then.” Things cooled down, and Sony ended up shooting Hollywood Homicide on Hollywood Boulevard between Highland and Sycamore Avenues, in front of the Mann’s Chinese Theatre.
To be sure, Garcetti, like Gilmore, was frustrated with film shoots interrupting normal business. But at the time, Garcetti was not alone. This kind of behavior was prevalent among certain politicians, location managers said, and other elected officials also were demanding money at the last minute behind the scenes. During her tenure, Jackie Goldberg, Garcetti’s predecessor on the City Council, had made similar requests, asking three filmmakers to donate as much as $10,000 to charities in exchange for her support in closing a freeway for film shoots in her district.
Once exposed, Assemblyman Dario Frommer introduced legislation that would fine elected officials up to $10,000 if they tried to force filmmakers to make a charitable contribution in exchange for their support in obtaining film permits. “This bill would prohibit that behavior,” said Frommer, who was then chairman of the Select Committee on Runaway Film Production. “No matter how worthy the cause, officials who expect a quid pro quo for a film permit create an appearance of corruption and drive away even more good-paying television and film production jobs.”
The bill was signed into law by then-Governor Gray Davis. Ironically, Garcetti went on to become a card-carrying member of SAG-AFTRA and has appeared in three productions since 2007, including End Of Watch, in which he played the Mayor of Los Angeles at the time he was campaigning for the real job.