Credit the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors with making filming more difficult and more expensive in the County than in the City — enhancing one of the biggest obstacles to filming in the greater LA area. With the latest county fee increase going into effect today, the problem of skyrocketing bureaucratic costs threatens to negate much of the anticipated income from increased production heading Hollywood’s way if Sacramento finally approves a long-awaited film incentives package (it’s now in the state Senate after being passed by the Assembly in May).
“The City is great and the County sucks,” a veteran location manager told Deadline. “They think we have bottomless pockets.” It’s a sentiment shared by many location managers who have to deal with the City and County film agencies. “The County is far worse than the City,” said another.
To many local filmmakers, it’s clear that if the state hopes to stop the hemorrhaging of film and TV production and jobs, the County needs to get with the program. The City Council has an Ad Hoc Committee on Film and Production Jobs that holds regular hearings. The county Board of Supervisors? For all its dozens of commissions, councils, bureaus, and committees, exactly none is dedicated to the film and television industry or aimed at keeping entertainment jobs in a county that is larger than all but eight U.S states and includes incorporated areas and 88 cities stretching 4,084 square miles.
“California is on the verge of passing an expanded film and TV production incentive – something that will help stem the tide of runaway production and create good jobs,” Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Film and Production Jobs, told Deadline. “The state’s first incentive bill, which I authored in 2009, has generated $4.3 billion in economic activity already, much of it in LA County. As the state takes action, every city and county should be looking at ways to make it easier to film locally. We are doing this in the City of Los Angeles and encourage our colleagues in other jurisdictions to do so as well.”
FilmLA calls today’s price hike from the county just the “latest in a series of planned film fee increases.” Producers will have to pay on-duty LA County fire safety officers $143.28 an hour — $2.39 an hour more than yesterday. That’s more than $5,731 a week — almost $300,000 a year before overtime pay. City fire safety officers receive less than half that, at $64 an hour. “The County Fire Department was able to get the Board of Supervisors to approve those rates,” said a source familiar with the County’s film-unfriendly practices.
Every film permit requires a fire review — and fee; the County’s cost three times more than the City’s. “The County charges $282 for a fire review, and the City is $85,” said a longtime location manager, “and the County’s road-use fees are astronomical.” Road-use fees — and the County’s road application fee and encroachment fee — also went up, effective July 1.
Fees the County charges for filming in downtown’s Grand Park, LA’s newest park, are in stark contrast to the fees charged to film in Griffith Park, one of the City’s oldest and grandest pubic spaces. To encourage filming in Griffith Park, the City Council set the location fee at $450 a day; to discourage filming in Grand Park, the Board of Supervisors approved a location fee of $2,400-$12,000 a day. (Check out the Grand Park rates here.)
In approving the higher rates for Grand Park, which originally had been set at a whopping $20,000 a day, Supervisor Gloria Molina said she wanted to preserve it for “the people” and, at least during its opening period, not have it turned into a studio backlot. “I don’t think that Grand Park is the place to be a backdrop for the film industry,” she said last year during a Board of Supervisors’ hearing. “I would really like to have the park be available only to the public at this point in time.”
Trying to film at County beaches can also draw invective from otherwise mild-mannered location managers. “You could not make Baywatch in Los Angeles today,” veteran location manager Timothy Hillman said at a recent City Council hearing. “It would be impossible because you can’t do anything on the beach. You’re lucky if you can walk on the beach with a camera.” Hillman tells Deadline: “The County’s Beaches and Harbors Department is so restrictive you can’t get anything done.”
Navigating the County’s understaffed film bureaucracy is also a common complaint among filmmakers. “The County is the most difficult to deal with; County Parks and County Beaches and Harbors, specifically,” said another veteran location manager.
“The county is a bigger mess than the city was,” location manager Mike Fantasia said at a recent City Council hearing. “So it’s gonna take you folks dealing with your counterparts, with your Board of Supervisors, to get them on board, and try to clean up their house a little bit.”