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Broad Gesture Costly to Film Novices

Movies: A motion to waive fees for zoo use was nonbinding. Now the Parks Department is collecting and student producers learn an expensive lesson.

May 26, 1997|ROBERT STEVENS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

American Film Institute student Isabelle Bourduas says that she never would have gone ahead with filming in the old Griffith Park Zoo without the help of the Los Angeles City Council.

Too bad it turned out to be not much help at all.

The council last December adopted a motion requesting that the Department of Recreation and Parks waive all fees and charges in connection with the students' filming. But a representative from Councilman John Ferraro's office, who presented the motion, says that it was only a request for the department to consider the filming a special event and to waive those costs--not a mandate.

So now Bourduas, Brian Hecker and Braein Halleard--producer, director and director of photography, respectively, of the 15-minute student film "Family Attraction"--are out $8,000 for the January shoot, and Bourduas has a collection agency writing to her regarding $3,000 more owed a private security company.

"At this point I don't know anymore what to do," Bourduas, 26, says. "I'm a student and it's impossible for me to find this money."

"Family Attraction" is a 70-person student project being done in conjunction with about 20 film professionals who are donating their time. Actor Martin Sheen donated one day to act in the film, and Chris Penn donated eight. For a handful of the students, "Family Attraction," the story of a family that lives in a zoo exhibit, is their second-year thesis film.

The students got help from producers Tony Lord, 33, and Matt Weaver, 29, who have a TriStar-based production company called Board/Weaver productions. The two executives produced the project, which Weaver says "basically just means we got a bunch of freebies for these guys and helped them secure some cast."

With their help the student filmmakers received donations including wardrobe and props from Disney, food from CostCo, and the use of a helicopter from KNBC. The American Film Institute started the filmmakers out with $17,000 for the $35,000 movie (that doesn't factor in donations but does include the $11,000 Griffith Park fees).

Bourduas says that the students chose two sites for the project, the Los Angeles Zoo and the old zoo in Griffith Park. Though they were able to get all fees waived for shooting at the Los Angeles Zoo, filmmakers say they ran into problems trying to get the same done at the latter location.

In December, "Family Attraction" filmmakers persuaded Councilman Ferraro (4th District) to present a motion to the Los Angeles City Council moving that the "American Film Institute project . . . be declared a Special Event and that the Department of Animal Regulation and the Department of Recreation and Parks be requested to waive all fees and charges in connection with the event" and was adopted on Dec. 11.

Unfortunately for the students, the council has jurisdiction over only the Department of Animal Regulation and not the Department of Recreation and Parks.

Bourduas says she ran into problems when she actually tried to get permits from and have fees waived by the recreation department. When Bourduas spoke to Linda Barth, senior management analyst for the recreation department, Bourduas says that she was shocked to find out that even with the motion some of the park fees could not be waived.

Barth told her that "the city council doesn't have the legal jurisdiction to tell us to waive or not waive," Barth says. Only the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners has that authority, she said. Following the call, Barth said she investigated the situation and two days before the filmmakers were scheduled to shoot (filming had already been postponed two weeks), she officially notified Bourduas that none of the fees mentioned in the motion could be waived.

Although the Department of Recreation and Parks would waive some fees automatically because of the student nature of the film, others could not be waived without a request to the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners, which rarely waives such fees. Without filing a formal request to the board regarding waiving these fees--a process that can take weeks if the board chooses to hear the request--the best that Barth said she could do for Bourduas would be to help bring down the cost of the mandatory 24-hour monitoring.

Because of the large scale of the production, a monitor had to be around during all filming. Although a park ranger had to do the job while the filmmakers where there, Barth said that they could compromise and let her hire a cheaper private security firm to monitor the site while the filmmakers weren't there.

This was "very elaborate, this was not like two guys a camera and a box," Barth says. "This was very similar to a full-scale major motion picture production. They had catering trucks. They had crews of 20 and 30. They built a 1,600-square-foot house. They had a helicopter land."

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