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Panel Moves to Turn Filming at Airport Over to Joint Agency

Entertainment: While only applying to Van Nuys, officials say pact with city-county development group could later be expanded to include LAX, Ontario.

September 17, 1997|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VAN NUYS — Los Angeles airport commissioners Tuesday took the first step toward turning over management of all commercial filming operations at Van Nuys Airport to the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., the joint city-county agency formed two years ago to keep film production in the Los Angeles area.

The commissioners would not say whether the move is linked to a long-running attempt by the city to evict a firm that built a thriving film production business in rented quarters at the city-owned airport.

Department of Airports officials say they need a professional management team to handle the growing popularity of filming at Van Nuys, which has earned the city more than $1.6 million in filming fees for permits and rental of vacant airport property since 1995.

Officials said they do not know how much more money has been earned by airport tenants who sublease property for commercial productions or whether the proposed airport-entertainment pact will affect those companies.

The city has been trying since March to evict Syncro Aircraft Interiors Inc., which turned a once-dilapidated World War II hangar into a popular location studio. The firm holds only a monthly lease on a portion of the giant hangar even though it has spent about $420,000 of its money on the site and repeatedly asked for a longer lease.

"We haven't gotten to any of those points yet," said Bret Lobner, senior city attorney assigned to the Department of Airports.

He also declined to comment on how the airport and management agency might share the lucrative film revenues.

Lobner said control of filming at the airport should be concentrated in the development corporation to "expedite the approval process as quickly as possible so movie [companies] can use Van Nuys" without interfering with normal airport operations.

"The EIDC and the city and the Department of Airports and the county are all trying to accommodate as best as they can the industry," he said.

The commission Tuesday unanimously approved a motion authorizing the department director to negotiate terms of an agreement with the development corporation. The agreement would apply only to filmmaking at Van Nuys, but eventually could be expanded to include Los Angeles International and Ontario airports, officials said.

"Van Nuys is the first target, but it is certainly possible" to include other airports, said Jerald K. Lee, deputy executive director of the city airports department.

Commercial productions are particularly active at Los Angeles International Airport, which entertainment industry officials say is the most popular airport filming location in the world, used in many feature films, TV shows and commercials. Major tenants there, including Delta and Continental airlines, also sublease their hangars for filming without disclosing revenues to the city.

A full-time city employee coordinates film productions at the international airport, where filming is underway almost daily, Lee said. Permits and all the details of scheduling at Van Nuys, however, are handled by the chief of airport security, who has many other duties.

Filming permits cost $100 per production, regardless of the duration. But most of the city's filming revenues at Van Nuys are earned by leasing out the vacant former Air National Guard base. The fees for leasing the base were not available Tuesday.

"For some time we have questioned whether we ought to have a central office coordinating all of the filming," Lee said. "There have been a couple of incidents where things haven't been done as smoothly as they should be." He declined to explain, except to say the incidents involved insurance matters.

Asked if the airport expected to increase film revenues, Lee said, "If other sites sitting vacant could be used for filming, that could generate business for us, although that is not our primary purpose."

In an unprecedented move in late July, airport officials momentarily shut down a production that had been underway for two months at Syncro, citing questions over the production company's insurance.

In a separate dispute with the airport's attorneys last month, permits for a Walt Disney production, scheduled to begin in two weeks at Syncro, also were delayed by a series of challenges from the city attorney's office.

Both incidents were settled only after attorneys for the production companies asked representatives of Mayor Richard Riordan and other high officials to intercede.

Syncro co-owner Barbara Cesar said Tuesday she is uncertain how the airport proposal will affect her company.

"We're hoping its a good thing for filming, but we don't really know what they have mind. We don't know where we stand," she said.

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