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Viacom exec blasts L.A. for filming costs

Despite all the recent rhetoric about keeping filming in Los Angeles, local filming costs continue to be prohibitive, an entertainment exec charged Thursday.

Paul Mason, senior veepee of Viacom Enterprises, told a room full of film commission officials that his company’s experiences with filming locally, out-of-state and abroad have convinced him that L.A. charges five or six times as much in site fees, police, fire and permits.

$ 6K a day

“To shoot a television series in Los Angeles, it costs $ 6,000 a day,” Mason said, referring specifically to the series “Diagnosis Murder.””That’s compared to $ 1,880 a day in Denver, or $ 1,970 a day in South Carolina. In Australia, it’s $ 1,247 a day.

“The average site rental in Los Angeles is $ 4,908, the average police salary is $ 530 a day,” he said.

Mason noted that a recent task force had cut fire costs to $ 191 a day, but before that, the cost for having a fire official on set was between $ 417 and $ 588 per day.

“That made the fireman almost the most expensive piece of below-the-line manpower on the set,” he said. “On the other hand, the fire department in Denver , Seattle, South Carolina, British Columbia and Australia costs zero.

“There is no other city we have worked in that has charges for permits,” he continued. “And certainly none that makes it as complicated as here, and none that revokes permits once given.

“I don’t think that anyone who’s not in production can understand the horror of a phone call that says your permit has been revoked for no reason that makes any sense, for no violation. And the scrambling, the changing of schedules — it is a nightmare scenario,” he said.

He did note that the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees has done its share in recent months to negotiate lower-cost contracts with television production companies.

“I feel we worked out a veryreasonable deal (with the IA) and we are at this moment filming ‘Diagnosis Murder’ here in Los Angeles,” he said, adding they are also filming two MOWs in L.A.

But Mason said being back in L.A. — the show had been shooting in Denver — has brought him back to a business community that continues to be unfriendly toward filming.

“There continues to be excessive restrictions shooting in residential neighborhoods,” he said. “There are limited hours, limited use of area and, worst of all, you have a generally unfriendly business attitude toward motion picture production.

“If you reduce the cost of site rentals by half, you will be saving (the industry) from $ 50,000 to $ 75,000 per picture and the savings on a series over a 30-week period is $ 450,000,” he said. “You will then be competitive with other states because the slightly higher cost of labor here will be offset bytravel, hotel and per diem.”

His suggestions also included creating areas where companies can film with ease; creating a newsletter to tell companies when the city is doing special things such as demolishing buildings; exploring both the police and fire situations; and making the permit process easier and less costly.

The city already is investigating a one-stop regionalized film permit that would be applicable for the six counties from Ventura south (not including San Diego). The city’s fire department is also instituting ways to cut costs for fire personnel on set.

“We’ve made a lot of positive changes, but obviously we have a ways to go,” admitted Cody Cluff, assistant deputy mayor and the city’s entertainment liaison.

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