When location manager Kris Bunting requested permission to film on a water tower in Griffith Park, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said no. “They are concerned about our poisoning the water table,” Bunting said in an email to his producer.
The scene called for two actors to unlock a gate and climb up a set of stairs on the outside of the tank. “They gave me every excuse,” Bunting told Deadline about the request last December. “Homeland security was brought up. I said, ‘This is not a secured reservoir. Anybody who has access to Griffith Park could hop that fence.’ ”
Worried that filmmakers might poison the city’s water supply or sabotage its power grid, the DPW has a long list of sites ruled out-of-bounds for filming because of “homeland security” concerns. The list itself so sensitive that the DWP wouldn’t provide it to Deadline.
Some location managers complain that homeland security is just an excuse the DWP uses to brush off filmmakers the department would just as soon see go away. The DWP, however, insists that’s not true; that it’s doing all it can to help Hollywood, but that its hands are partly tied by federal laws protecting strategic assets from acts of terrorism.
“The DWP makes every effort to accommodate filmmakers and works closely with production companies and their scouts,” Patrick Findley, the DWP’s director of security services and emergency management, told Deadline. “Homeland security issues have been a concern due to federal regulations impacting the utility industry. With the oversight of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), new rules were imposed on all utilities. Properties that were once accessible to filmmakers are now restricted due to FERC regulations.”
FilmLA, the city’s film permit office, says that the DWP is doing a better job of making its properties accessible to filmmakers, while acknowledging that there’s still an image problem.
“Immediately following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001,” FilmLA said on its website, “the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, a proprietary department of the City of Los Angeles, restricted filming at LADWP properties to ensure there was no threat to the public’s health. Since that initial halt to filming, security protocols have been put in place, and individual LADWP properties have reopened one at a time to filming. Most LADWP properties are now available resources for filming, though the notion that they are closed still lingers in the minds of some filmmakers.”
No doubt, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, which cast the department in a murderous land- and water-grabbing conspiracy, didn’t help. Filmmakers have turned to the city council for help.
“There are quite a few properties with the DWP that would be interesting for filming,” location manager Veronique Vowell said at an April hearing of the Los Angeles City Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Film and TV Production Jobs. “Homeland security was constantly being used as sort of the stick to tell us to go away. I understand that there are things that need to remain secure, but there are certainly a lot of places, an office building or a parking lot, that I can’t imagine is a homeland security issue.”
“I’ve filmed in airports; I’ve filmed on bridges; I’ve filmed on top of skyscrapers. I’ve filmed in power plants all over the place that have the same homeland security kind of concerns, and we just work with them,” location manager Mike Fantasia told the committee. “It’s a matter of providing an adequate level of security.”
“They are so anti-filming, I just totally avoid them,” Fantasia told Deadline. “The DWP just doesn’t want to deal with us, so they put everything under homeland security and we’re shut out of most of their facilities.”
After the April hearing, councilman Paul Krekorian, the committee chairman, asked the DWP for a “reevaluation of sites that have been determined to be off limits because of homeland security.” “LADWP is very supportive of the filming industry and continually works to accommodate their needs when at all possible,” the department responded. “LADWP has reevaluated sites but must balance between its security concerns for LADWP’s critical assets and the request for filming. Generally, we do not allow filming on any property, including tanks, reservoirs, or pump stations, that the general public does not have access to. All requests for filming on LADWP property is routed through the DWP film coordinator for approval. Approvals are subject to considerations regarding, but not limited to, security concerns, operational needs, access issues, crew size, and impacts to the community and environment.”
Krekorian told Deadline that LADPW should be more cooperative. “The city and all of its departments should be doing everything possible to make it easier to film in Los Angeles, especially at city-owned and -operated facilities,” he said. “I expect that the DWP will be a partner in this, as it has numerous properties that could be utilized by the film and TV industry without compromising its compliance with federal regulations.”
On July 10, the Mayor’s LA City Film Task Force met with DWP officials at the Convention Center to encourage them to better accommodate the film industry. “The mayor wants everyone to open their doors,” Jan Perry, general manager of the Department of Economic and Workforce Development, said through a spokesperson.
“We are in contact with the mayor’s office,” Findley said. “He is very pro-business in LA. He and his staff made it very, very clear to department heads that he wants them to do what they can to accommodate the industry. Hollywood is the economic engine of Los Angeles. That’s why people come here.”
In that spirit, the DWP recently made filming available at the Hollywood Reservoir. “We have a number of reservoirs used for drinking water, and we don’t allow anyone near them,” Findley said. “The one exception is the Hollywood Reservoir, which is no longer used for drinking water. We always have a demand for it, so I told our water systems people, and in the spirit of reevaluating, I said, ‘I can’t see any reason why we can’t open this up to filming,’ and they agreed.”
The DWP also allows filmmakers to shoot outside power plants – but not inside. Showtime’s Dexter, Findley said, “filmed tons of shots outside the Haynes Generating Station in Long Beach.” The DWP’s website lists all of its properties — mostly office buildings and empty lots — that are available for filming. Inception was shot at the DWP’s John Ferraro downtown headquarters building and Django Unchained was shot on DWP property all over the Owens Valley.
“They call and say they want to shoot in Lone Pine, and we have our coordinators in the Bishop office and they will say it’s available for filming,” Findley said. “Typically, there’s never a denial.”
Over the last three years, the DWP has signed off on 64 film permits, including 27 at the John Ferraro Building. If the film office can’t accommodate a request, an explanation is given and alternative locations are provided.
Asked for a list of the properties that had once been accessible to filmmakers but are now restricted by FERC regulations, a DWP spokesman said: “Checked with our head of security and we will not be giving out that information. Sorry.” A terrorist with a laptop could easily locate any number of lightly guarded power plants and distribution stations in and around Los Angeles — but they’re off limits to filmmakers all the same.
The government began to severely limit filming at power plants, substations and other sites deemed to be part of the nation’s “critical infrastructure” in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Congress placed even tighter restrictions on access to those sites in 2005 with the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005’s Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) standards.
“Under current CIP standards, entities such as LADWP that own and/or operate facilities that are part of the nation’s bulk electric system must identify critical assets and critical cyber assets that are to be protected,” a spokesman for FERC told Deadline. “The CIP standards require establishment of a ‘physical security perimeter’ around protected assets.” Power suppliers in violation FERC’s security rules are subject to fines of up to $1 million a day.
“Critical infrastructure protection has gotten tighter and tighter every year,” Findley said. “I take our security very seriously. Nobody likes to say no, but there comes a point where you have to draw the line.”
Findley, a former LAPD Captain who has been the DWP’s chief of security for six years, believes the department’s poor reputation with filmmakers is undeserved. “When I came here, all city entities were told to be as accommodating as possible without disrupting our business. That’s something I believe in. I put into place a fulltime coordinator and a backup to assure that calls are returned in a timely manner.
“We still get this perceived notion that we’re not film-friendly. Granted, sites have been restricted due to regulations by the federal government and other entities. But we don’t hide behind those.” At his last meeting with location managers, when someone complained that the DWP uses homeland security as an excuse to turn filmmakers away, Findley said he asked for examples but was only told, “I’ve heard it from others.” “We did follow-ups,” he said, “and it turned out that wasn’t the case.”
Findley will get another chance to spell out the DWP’s policy when he meets with location managers October 21.
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