Filmmakers weigh options outside Hollywood

The City of Angels, where the American film industry grew and prospered, is bedeviled by rivals trying to steal it away.

“Los Angeles is finding itself in a position of having to compete globally for a business that the region has always had,” says location manager and production services vet Richard McMillan, board member of the Location Managers Guild of America (LMGA). The city now must market itself “to a homegrown industry that is no longer at home.”

For instance, as Variety recently reported, 20 of the 39 hourlong TV pilots on order for next season are skedded to shoot outside California’s borders. Other locales luring productions include Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, New Orleans and Providence, R.I., in the U.S.; Paris and Prague overseas; and Canadian cities such as Toronto and Vancouver.

LMGA board member and CBS show “Cold Case” location manger Veronique Vowell believes the city and county of Los Angeles and state of California should ease regulations and the production-

permitting processes to save production jobs. “Government should not be looking at the permitting process as a revenue stream,” she says. “It should be as easy as possible.”

Although “Cold Case” is set in Philadelphia, the show lenses 90% of the time in and around L.A.; Vowell has secured locations from the manses of Hancock Park to the Queensway Bridge in Long Beach.

Both Vowell and fellow location manager Ilt Jones (now prepping Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”) agree that one key challenge to local production is a move by the city of Los Angeles to require more advanced notice for prefilming notification.

“If they end up making the lead time longer to pull permits, it really will be the death knell of TV and commercial production in L.A,” Jones contends. The LMGA has spotlighted this issue and others for local officials.

Some encouraging efforts have been made. California recently adopted a tax-credit program that aims to keep productions in-state (see main story). But it’s unclear how much this will help Los Angeles, or even the state, for that matter.

“It will put California into the conversation,” McMillan notes. “But will it tip the scales? It’s too early to tell.”

One factor decidedly in the region’s favor: the sheer number of available and seasoned crews. “Los Angeles has a depth of crew base,” Jones notes, and “a galaxy of talent.”

But the law of supply and demand has definitely impacted location fees, particularly in downtown Los Angeles.

Surprisingly, unlike many other cities, Los Angeles boasts no film commissioner. “There is no point person,” says Marylin Bitner, a former location manager who now reps various locations. She notes that some council members and districts are more film-friendly than others, but “you can’t scout locations by council district. You can’t ask writers to just write for one district.”

Under L.A. City Council president Eric Garcetti, the council has considered production incentives, including a move to authorize the Dept. of Water and Power to install power nodes in downtown L.A. to eliminate the need for portable power generators — those loud devices that particularly irk residents. Jones points to three major productions he worked on that recently lensed in L.A.: “Hancock,” “Transformers” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” (The latter shot locally before moving to Egypt and Jordan.)

Jones lauds “the all-around diversity of locations, and the scale and scope of things you can undertake here. There is nowhere else like it.”

And, unless the script is location-specific, most filmmakers and talent would rather stay in town. “We need a marketing plan to attract production back to home base,” McMillan says. “If something isn’t done to bring back production, L.A. as the ‘home of the entertainment industry’ just won’t be true.”

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