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LA to film crews: come home

February 24, 2010 |  9:00 am
Marketing Hollywood has never been shy about self-promotion, except when it comes to touting its own backyard.

New York touts a "Made in N.Y." program featuring local film and TV production crew members who share their work experience in the city.

Los Angeles, however, has been low key -- some would say complacent -- when it comes to singing the praises of filming close to home at a time when rivals beyond California's borders are grabbing a bigger share of the production pie.

Now, a coalition of industry, labor and city officials wants to remedy the situation by launching a broad-based public education campaign that would herald the economic benefits of the film industry to Los Angeles -- while thanking local residents for putting up with the occasional inconvenience of crews in their neighborhoods.

The details are still being worked out, but the marketing blitz, expected to be unveiled by April, would likely feature ads on billboards and bus benches, as well as public service announcements on radio and TV, and even in local movie theaters. Expect to see production trucks plastered with banners trumpeting how many jobs were created on a given show.

"With so much competition, L.A. and the region has to really step up and make the community aware of the value of our industry, and how many people earn their living from it," said Pamm Fair, who chairs FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit film permitting clearinghouse that is spearheading the campaign. "We need to do everything we can to keep jobs here."

The idea of selling L.A. as a filming destination isn't new. In fact, city officials and film promoters have talked for several years about launching such a campaign, but it never took off.

Pressure to do something, however, has mounted as the region has lost thousands of production jobs to other locales, sapping an industry that still generates an estimated 250,000 jobs in Los Angeles County.

Although California's new film incentives have helped to slow the decline, on-location filming last year suffered its steepest drop since tracking began in 1993, reflecting a long-term flight of filming not only to international rivals such as Toronto and Vancouver, but also to Louisiana, Michigan and New Mexico.

The state's share of U.S. feature film production plunged to 31% in 2008, down from 66% in 2003, according to the California Film Commission. And only 57% of all TV pilots were shot in L.A. in 2009, down from 81% in 2004, according to FilmL.A.

Cinematographer Ed Gutentag, who recently launched a website called shootmoviesincalifornia.com devoted to keeping film projects in-state, says a campaign to promote local production is critical.

"People need to be made aware of this before it's too late," said Gutentag, who is filming a documentary about the effects of runaway production on local crews. "This is a critical issue, not just for grips, electricians and camera operators, but all the businesses that service the industry."

FilmL.A. will contribute about $25,000 to help the campaign get set up with a slogan and logo, but the goal is for much of the overall cost -- estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars -- to be borne through donated services provided by film editors, producers, local talent and vendors. A theater chain has agreed to provide free use of its trailers at local theaters. Hollywood's major unions also will be asked to pitch in, while the city is expected to offer use of its space for ads.

The city is considering expanding FilmL.A.'s marketing role, among other steps to help the film industry, such as offering free parking on city properties to film crews.

The nonprofit group handles film permits on behalf of the city and unincorporated areas of the county. Its predecessor, the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., previously played a larger role in marketing and promotion of the local industry, but that function was scaled back after a scandal forced the ouster of former chief Cody Cluff in 2004.

The fallout prompted a series of changes to improve oversight and management, including establishing independent audits and a board run by industry, labor and neighborhood representatives, rather than politicians.

-Richard Verrier
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