The term laissez-faire takes on new meaning under legislation pending in the California Legislature to help the motion picture industry. The studio bosses should be delighted.
Until a few years ago, studios were charged a fee of up to $2,000 a day to film within state parks. Faced with the flight of movies to location sites outside of California, the Legislature eliminated the fee schedule. Instead, studios were charged actual expenses incurred by state employees to watch over the film crews and to make certain the park environment was protected. This has amounted to about $60,000 a year for the state Parks and Recreation Department.
Now, Assemblyman Stan Statham (R-Redding) seeks to do away with such charges. His Assembly Bill 2573 expedites the issuance of filming permits, directs state officials to grant the use of state property for filming and requires the California Highway Patrol to provide for the use of freeways and roads, and traffic control, as long as it has the personnel available.
Another measure, Senate Bill 1042 by Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys), would suspend city and county fees for commercial movie filming on a one-year test basis. The state would reimburse the local governments out of taxpayer funds for any fees lost. That will not be particularly happy news for downtown motorists who find themselves caught up in massive rush-hour jams only to find the cause is a film crew.
There is good reason why the studios like to film in the Los Angeles area and in state parks like Will Rogers, Malibu Lagoon, Malibu Creek and Leo Carrillo State Beach. Once the crews, with their fleets of mobile dressing rooms and the like, go beyond a 30-mile radius of Beverly and La Cienega boulevards, they have to pay extra travel and meal expenses to union workers. Given the hundreds of employees often involved, that is a major concern to the producers.
It is also a concern to park employees who claim that film crews often "trash" state park areas as they go about their business with little concern for, or knowledge of, the effect on the environment. This is not a sometimes thing. Crews worked in the Santa Monica Mountains area parks 201 days last year. Unless the Parks and Recreation Department receives funds for ranger overtime, there is the prospect of film crews having the run of the parks without any supervision. Statham's answer is for the department to ask for a bigger budget.
The National Park Service requires a donation from film crews to cover the cost of supervision. "We've never been turned down," a Park Service official said, adding in reaction to the Statham plan, "There is no way we'd do that."
The movie industry, which does not appear to be on its economic knees, is not likely to go on location outside of California without being willing to spend hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars in added expense.
A few thousand dollars is not a large price for the studios to pay for the privilege of using the people's state parks. The law should stay as it is.