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Plan Offered to Lure More Filmmaking

January 22, 1992|LOUIS SAHAGUN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Concerned that Los Angeles is playing the heavy in its dealings with the motion picture industry, City Councilman Michael Woo on Tuesday unveiled a plan to make the city more hospitable to film crews.

Although the industry spent about $4 billion in the city of Los Angeles in 1991, Woo said a confusing tangle of building and safety codes is driving film companies to other communities in California, Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida and North Carolina offering tax rebates, free permits and even helicopters.

At stake is the estimated $100,000 in sales tax--generated by purchases ranging from doughnuts to costumes-- produced by the average film, and 115,000 industry-related jobs here, ranging from actors, camera operators and accountants to plumbers, caterers and lawyers, Woo said.

"The film industry provides seven times as many jobs in Los Angeles as it does in the nation at large," Woo said at a City Hall news conference. "But because we in government can't get our act together, we are letting those jobs get away."

In the plan presented to the city Government Efficiency Committee, Woo proposed creating a $70,000-a-year executive assistant position in the mayor's office "with czar-like power to cut through the red tape and encourage the film industry to stay in Los Angeles."

The new Director of Motion Picture and Television Affairs, whose position would be funded through increased permit fees, would primarily help industry officials interpret city codes and obtain permits for feature film production, which rose from 500 to 1,200 between 1985 and 1990, according to a recent audit conducted by the city administrative officer.

Industry officials who attended Woo's news conference and committee meeting did not object to the proposed fee increases, which they believe would be a small price to pay for smoother operations.

Film executives said the city compares unfavorably with Los Angeles County, which has won high praise since April, 1990, when it turned over the issuance of film permits to a private nonprofit organization. Industry officials say the County Film Office has speeded issuance of permits.

"Los Angeles is way behind the times in setting up a position like this," said David Link, a spokesman for Warner Bros. Inc., which is producing a film called "The Bodyguard," which is set and is being filmed in Los Angeles and starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston.

"For example, the South is a hotbed for shooting right now for two reasons," Link said. "One is the weather. The other is that they have film commissioners who make it easy for us to operate in their city limits."

Woo's proposal draws on a city administrative office audit, published in May, on the city's promotion and retention of movie, television and commercial industries.

The audit recommended that the city's 50-member film operations committee, which has met only twice since it was formed in 1987, be placed under the control of the mayor's office and expanded to include film industry and homeowners group representatives.

The Governmental Efficiency Committee, chaired by Woo, voted to send the measure to the city Budget and Finance Committee, which must approve it before it goes before the full City Council later this year. Mayor Tom Bradley has already said he favors such an approach.

Industry representatives, including Kathleen Milnes, director of governmental affairs for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said they strongly support the proposal.

"Our biggest concern is the speed at which we move," Milnes said. "City permitting agencies are not used to dealing with the time frames the industry works under."

Ralph Sariego, vice president of television production for Universal Studios Inc., complained to the committee that "I don't know who to call" for clarification of city ordinances that involve multiple city agencies.

But making it easier to produce movies in Los Angeles is all but certain to increase complaints from residents who have pleaded with city officials for relief from production company traffic and noise.

Woo said he will take steps to address residents' concerns about an industry that on a single day last year had a record 111 movies in production. Nonetheless, committee member Councilman Mike Hernandez requested that the city administrative officer "tell us whether we have enough staff to hold the film companies accountable to the communities they operate in."

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