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Producers Say High Fees at L.A. County Parks Are Hurting Location Filming

Few other places in Downtown Los Angeles have the vantage point of Grand Park: Stretching from the Music Center to the obelisk-capped City Hall, the park is a symbol of what many hope will be the revival of Downtown and, at last, give the region a sense of civic space and place.

But some location scouts have their gripes about what it’ll cost to get their shot: $1,920 to $5,720, depending on the exact area, and up to $12,000 to use the entire park.

Such fees are at the heart of what is likely to be the next front in the effort to return production to Los Angeles. While union and studio officials cheered last month when Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill more than tripling the state’s film production credit, a thornier issue may well be efforts to reduce prices for permitting and related tasks like processing and fire department review.

By statute, municipal governments statewide are required to recover their costs, and budgets have been so strapped that there is a reluctance to reduce potential revenue.

Nevertheless, the Los Angeles City Council passed a measure in 2013 to waive fees for TV pilots. And the county Board of Supervisors responded to concerns of excessive fees at Grand Park — as much as $20,000 per day to shoot in each of the space’s four quadrants — by reducing them last year.

Still, independent filmmakers and commercial producers balk at the cost, and after a commission’s recommendation in 2012 to waive a number of county filming fees went nowhere, subsequent efforts have stalled.

Both candidates poised to succeed Zev Yaroslavsky in District 3, which covers many of the areas where the industry shoots, are pitching their ability to come up with a solution.

Bobby Shriver, in a statement, said that “county government too often treats film and TV production as an intrusion.” He vowed to “make the process for filming cheaper and more efficient,” including cutting turnaround times and costs.

Sheila Kuehl, meanwhile, said she has an advantage on the issue, having worked in the industry as an actress, as well as having authored incentives legislation when she was in the legislature.

“I don’t believe production should be a cash cow for the county, but rather should be an industry we work very hard to attract and keep,” she said, adding that she would designate someone in her office to work with production businesses to help them with their shoots.

According to FilmLA, over the past 12 months shows like CBS’s “Battleship,” “The Mentalist” and “NCIS: Los Angeles,” as well as ABC’s “Intelligence” shot in Grand Park. The organization said that 3 standard TV commercials shot there as well as one for the Internet and one that was a public service announcement. The figures were based on productions that received the required city of L.A. film permit to shoot there. Paul Audley, president of FilmLA, said that producers concerns have been that the fees for the park run substantially higher than other locations, like the Los Angeles County Arboretum, and over fees for processing applications and fire department review.

David Phelps, director of external relations for the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers, said that if a production doesn’t “have an affordable location that highlights key portions of the city, they will go elsewhere.” He said that issues like this are especially sensitive to commercial producers working on tight budgets. He also noted that they are not eligible for the state movie and TV production tax credit.

Yet the idea of giving breaks to Hollywood doesn’t sit well with some in county government. One official, who asked not to be identified, found the idea that the fees would make or break a production, particularly a well-financed studio shoot, “ridiculous.” In the most recent quarter, TV location production increased by more than 30% in L.A., while feature shooting declined.

Supervisor Gloria Molina, whose district encompasses Grand Park, has noted that there are so many competing request to use the property as to justify the cost. In other words, it’s a matter of supply and demand.

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