Lights, camera…fee increase
June 28, 2011
Producers of the next “Batman” movie, now planning a 14-day film shoot in Los Angeles County flood control channels, will be paying $300 a day for the privilege—not the $798 daily rate set Tuesday as part of a new inspection fee structure approved by the Board of Supervisors.
Projects such as “Batman” got in under the wire by applying to film before the board action, and will be charged the old rate, said Maryam Adhami, a senior civil engineer who handles permits for the county Department of Public Works.
The fee hikes for filming in flood control channels and on county roads are intended to help Public Works recover its inspection costs. They come after supervisors in April approved a package of other Public Works fee increases—including for permit issuance and processing—that apply to entertainment industry production companies as well as other kinds of firms.
The Public Works department is not alone in seeking to offset its costs. New county Fire Department filming fees also have been enacted. And those are in addition to “use fees” charged for filming in locations such as county beaches and parks, and for applying for a permit from FilmL.A., the private, nonprofit agency that coordinates filming for the city and county of Los Angeles. (This March, 2011, report gives an overview of the various location fees charged by the county.)
“The biggest problem we see is that there seems to be a tremendous increase in fees at a time that we’re struggling to keep filming in Los Angeles,” said Ed Duffy, business agent for Teamsters Local 399, which represents location managers. While a $798 inspection fee for the first day of shooting in a flood control channel may indeed be justified, Duffy said, there seems to be less basis for charging the same rate for additional shooting days on the same project.
Filming permits for the county’s flood control channels—immortalized in films such as the “Terminator” series and “The Italian Job”—were issued 22 times during fiscal 2010-2011, while county road filming permits were granted 549 times, according to a Public Works review. The department collected a total of $194,931 for both kinds of shoots—but its costs were $409,225. Had the new fee structure been in place, it would have received a total $410,337.
Inspection fees for filming in county flood control channels have not increased since they first were enacted in 1982, Public Works Director Gail Farber said in a letter to the board. Inspection fees for county roads had a “moderate increase” in 1998, and have been adjusted according to the consumer price index since that, she said. The board’s action Tuesday increased both kinds of fees.
Dennis Hunter, deputy director of Public Works, told supervisors that some in the industry are concerned that the department is charging separate permit fees for filming in multiple locations. Hunter said that the newly-enacted fees will be monitored for six months to make sure that the department is just covering its costs—not turning a profit at the production companies’ expense.
Overall, filming activity is down in the county, although it is too soon to say whether that is due to recent fee increases, said Donna Washington, FilmL.A.’s vice president for operations. She said a fee hike from $300 to nearly $800 a day to shoot in a flood control channel could prompt a production company to look elsewhere.
“They’d probably try to find somewhere else to shoot,” Washington said.
Still, she said that she understands that county departments are facing financial pressures of their own.
“The perception is that the county is being anti-filming. I don’t think that’s the case. The departments have all been told to do cost recovery.”