It was politics in the land of make-believe Wednesday as Gov. George Deukmejian toured Hollywood's dream factories in a media event carefully staged to show his Administration's support for California's native business--the film industry.
In a flurry of personal appearances, the Republican governor visited film locations on the gritty streets of Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles, a special-effects lab in Van Nuys and the back lots of a major studio. All the while, motion picture executives lobbied him on the need to do something about the loss of film production to other states.
Later, speaking to reporters from the Burbank Studios set of the television series "Hotel," Deukmejian blamed high labor costs, a maze of permit regulations and high fees charged by local government for driving productions--$1 billion worth a year by some estimates--out of the state.
Swipe at Bradley
And in a mild swipe at Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, his expected Democratic rival in this year's gubernatorial race, Deukmejian said Los Angeles residents and city officials sometimes make things more difficult for the film industry.
"Some (Los Angeles) residents, while they don't mind having productions on their street or in their neighborhoods, if it happens too often, they do complain," Deukmejian said. "So some of the elected officials try to respond to those complaints. But for the most part governments in California have to recognize that this is a $5-billion industry."
In a telephone interview, Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Tom Houston disputed that assessment and called Deukmejian's tour little more than a "public relations gimmick."
Houston said that Bradley has been meeting with members of the city's Film Development Commission to see what can be done to help the industry. He also asserted that recent studies indicate that the film industry is "absolutely booming in L.A."
At the very least, Wednesday's tour was good television. The governor was constantly surrounded by crowds of television cameras and paparazzi. There were pictures of Deukmejian with Debbie Reynolds and with the stars of CBS's "Cagney and Lacey." There were pictures of Deukmejian operating a Panavision movie camera. There were even pictures of the governor in a neon-lit nightclub speaking to a 22-year-old extra with spiked hair, leopard-skin pants and a fishnet shirt. "Do they make you dress like that?" Deukmejian asked, puzzled.
The governor's Hollywood blitz was the latest in a series of campaign-style trips arranged to focus attention on some of California's largest employers and what his Administration has done to keep business in the state.
In the case of the film industry, which employs an estimated 80,000 Californians, about 50% of all feature productions are shot in California. More than 90% of all television series are filmed locally.
However, with more than 40 other states offering a range of inducements to lure productions, including non-union labor and free use of filming locations, many producers are finding it difficult to remain in the state.
As a partial solution, the Legislature last year opened a state film office in Hollywood to promote California as a movie location and to begin reducing the maze of overlapping permits required by government agencies.
Lisa Rawlins, director of the California Film Office, said film production in California has grown by 20% since the office opened.
Executives of most of the major studios met privately with the governor over lunch where they reportedly blamed much of the runaway production problem on the high cost of obtaining government filming permits.
Deukmejian Chief of Staff Steven A. Merksamer, who accompanied the governor, noted that state government no longer charges movie companies for filming on state property. However, Los Angeles, which issues about 5,000 film permits annually, has not agreed to waive its permit fees.