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Candidates for Los Angeles mayor are luring stars and moguls for money,
but seeking the votes of the Hollywood rank-and-file with the promise to
lure more production back to the city.

But even as the contenders
talk up the issue of runaway production, there are doubts about just how
much can be done at the city level to keep a movie or TV show in L.A.

Councilman
Eric Garcetti is proposing a “film czar” to guide producers through red
tape as well as a plan to waive city fees for TV pilots that shoot in
the city. City controller Wendy Greuel is calling for further
streamlining the permit process and pointing to her work on the
California Film Commission. Radio talk host and entertainment lawyer
Kevin James is promoting a “Los Angeles Production benefit,” in which
indpendent film producers can access a city database of crew members who
are available to work at an “adjusted rate.” Councilwoman Jan Perry has
proposed ongoing surveying of other cities, like New York and New
Orleans, as a kind of barometer to see what they are doing to lure
production away.

Yet while producers welcome any effort to
streamline the process — on the idea that time is money — some
question whether it actually is the breaking point in whether a
production stays in the city. “The city isn’t in a position where it
could offer major incentives that would make a major difference in the
cost of production,” said Kevin Klowden, managing economist and director
of the California Center at the Milken Institute. He doesn’t dismiss
what the city can do at the bureaucratic level, like offering police and
fire services at discounted rates on business taxes and fees, and doing
what it can to speed the permit process through FilmLA. But they do not
create as much of a lure as state incentives, and the real issues in
the state incentives are that we don’t offer enough of them,” he said.

There’s also the more vexing problems of labor costs and neighborhood cooperation, he noted.

“In
the end, a lot of [bureaucreatic efforts] has been tried, and it it may
help, but he longterm reputation for the city comes down to how quickly
can things get done,” he said.

The candidates have made a point
of supporting and expanding the state’s production incentive, recently
extended for another two years yet capped at an annual $100 million, a
sum that is quickly snapped up.

While runaway production may not
be foremost on the minds of many donors, even within entertainment, it
has popped up in mayoral debates, like a forum sponsored by KABC-TV and
the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs on Monday. Producers of
lower-budgeted productions and TV movies are especially vocal about the
cost of permits and of paying for city police and fire personnel to
supervise on set. “It is a lot of money for a small project,” said
producer Michael McGuire, who pointed to an $800 permit he recently paid
to shoot an independent film not on public property, but at a private
home in Encino. “I don’t see why they can’t waive that.”

The issue
took on renewed importance last year, when FilmLA reported that less
than half of primetime dramas were being shot in Los Angeles, while
drama pilot production fell. Overall, Film LA reported that pilots show
in Los Angeles amounted to just 29% of the total, far and away the most
being comedies that are don’t carry the same economic punch as one-hour
shows.

On Feb. 26, the City Council will weigh Garcetti’s proposal
to waive fees for TV productions filmed in the city, as well as fees
for the first year of a pilot that is picked up for series. In a report
last month, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana estimated that
the impact on the city’s general fund would be a mimimum of $231,000 and
an unknown larger amount for the first year of production. He added
that the waiver of fees would conflict with a city policy requiring
“full cost recovery” for all fees charged by the city.

“Given the
nominal amount city fees represent of overall production costs, it is
unlikely that this waiver in and of itself would be the determining
factor for filming on location in the city versus another location,” he
wrote.

Rather, he said that the central issues that pilot
producers use in choosing where to film are the availabiity of
incentives and production infrastructure.