A bureaucratic roadblock in Palmdale, Calif., brought recent filming of an episode of “The X-Files” to a standstill, and though the problem was ultimately sorted out, Jeff McNeil, Film Liaison for the Antelope Valley Film Office, worries that the fiasco could lead to a loss in film revenues.
At the heart of the controversy is a permit required to be allowed to shoot at a city street and state highway intersection and temporarily interrupt traffic flow. Palmdale’s City Traffic Engineer, Tom Horn, required the film crew have an “engineer’s stamp approval” for its plans, which according to Tom Cox, field manager for Four Lane, a Palmdale barricade company, can cost between $500 and $2,000 and take approximately two weeks to process.
Appeals to resolve the traffic issue found a sympathetic ear in Palmdale City Council’s Shelley Sorsabal, as well as Palmdale film commish Barbara Lafata. A revised set of plans received Horn’s approval, minus fee, and filming resumed — this time.
“Film companies bring money to the community and that helps everybody out,” said Cox, who is concerned that the delay and approval fee, which is charged to the studio, could cost their area future business. McNeil put the area’s film and TV production revenues at more than $602,000 for the month of July.
Cox reported Horn’s parting advice to him was that, like any parade, for instance, all future traffic plans would require a fee-paid approval permit. But Horn now says his office will draw up and approve such plans — called Intermittent Traffic Control — at no charge.
“Our only concern is safety,” said Horn. “Closing or blocking streets requires complete and accurate plans as well as specific placement of warning signs.” Horn also asserts that requirements have been modified to accommodate film crews.
Lafata concurs. In September 1997, the director of public works set policy that any traffic control plans needed engineer certification. But the policy has been amended so that the Dept. of Public Works and City Manager will provide free approval through the Palmdale City Traffic Engineer’s office or refer companies like Four Lane to other registered engineers for acquiring certification on traffic plans. A three-day notice is preferred.
City standards differ, however. A CHP or sheriff supervising with properly placed “lane closed” or “flagmen ahead” signs, as well as plenty of advance notice for residents, is sufficient for Lancaster, Calif.’s traffic engineer manager, Bob Weithofer. Something more complex, such as rerouting traffic in the wrong direction, would require an engineer’s plan.
“It’s good PR for the film company as well as for us to allow residents to pick another route,” said Weithofer.
Said McNeil: “I don’t want our area to be known as the most expensive community for film production. And we all just need to know the rules.”
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On a more cooperative note: The Greater Philadelphia Film Office together with the City of Philadelphia will provide for film, TV and video production within city limits the services of up to three police officers at no charge for traffic control and security, according to Mayor Edward G. Rendell.
Previously, off-duty officers accepted these assignments at a time-and-a-half rate billed to the producers.
“Now, however, thanks to the cooperative efforts of Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia film office, and police commissioner John Timoney, who have reviewed this situation, we have come to the conclusion that it is to everyone’s advantage that the previous fees for this service should be waived, and the services be provided by on-duty officers,” Mayor Rendell said.
Pinkenson noted that filmmakers can already take advantage of fee-free location filming in Pennsylvania-owned or Philadelphia-owned buildings, and that feature film productionsmay also be eligible for manufacturers sales tax exemption certificates for goods purchased and used in filming.