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EIDC CHASES FILMING OFF, CRITICS SAY PRODUCERS GIVE FILM OFFICE BAD REVIEWS OVER 'ABUSE,' HIGH FEES, DOUBLE BILLING.

Byline: Troy Anderson Staff Writer

Already under criminal investigation, the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. faced accusations Wednesday from several entertainment and commercial and location managers that it's making things worse - not better - in its fight against runaway production.

In fact, they said, it's driving production out of the area by charging ``ridiculous'' fees, double billing and failing to return deposits. Residents of some neighborhoods used in shooting added to the chorus of complaints, saying the EIDC does a poor job of working with the community.

``Starting in 1998, filmmakers told me they were going to Canada,'' said Jean Ferguson, owner of Ferguson's Film Property Management Co. in Studio City, which connects people who want to rent their properties with producers.

``We can't tolerate their arrogance, abuse and the fact they bully us. It really is my opinion and many others in the industry that they have done more to drive filming off than anything that has ever happened to the industry.''

Others in the industry defended the EIDC's record while its vice president, Morrie Goldman, disputed the criticism. Goldman noted that the number of local filming production days was higher last year than when the agency was created in 1995 as a nonprofit corporation to facilitate filming permits and work to combat runaway-production problems.

Local production days have dropped from a high of 33,371 in 1997 to 27,435 in 2001, but are still higher than the 22,069 recorded in 1995.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who was instrumental in the creation of the EIDC out of city and county government agencies, said the complaints levied by filmmakers are just one component of runaway production.

``If you look at the way things were before the EIDC - going through the bureaucracy at City Hall that took forever and having to go to the 88 cities in the county - I think they have done a heck of a good job,'' Riordan said. ``I just think they have made some bad mistakes lately.''

The EIDC faces a criminal investigation over questions about $500,000 in expenses charged to it by its president, Cody Cluff, and tens of thousands of dollars in political campaign contributions to county supervisors, Mayor James Hahn and Los Angeles City Council members - all of whom sit on the EIDC board. Several officials have returned contributions in recent days and Hahn has given back the $25,000 he solicited for his anti-secession campaign.

Saving money in Canada

Stephen Katz, director of the Center for Entertainment Industry Data and Research in Encino, said the main factor behind runaway production is that filmmakers can save 10 percent to 15 percent by going to Canada due to favorable exchange rates and government subsidies.

``I think under this situation, the EIDC has done an excellent job,'' Katz said. ``When someone says you can save $2 million by going to Canada, what are you going to do? The EIDC does have areas that don't work as well as others. I'm sure they don't always notify neighborhoods of filming. But how rampant is this?''

The EIDC's annual report shows the number of residents' complaints about filming in their neighborhoods has jumped from 871 in 1996-97 to 1,227 in 2000-01.

``This is a total travesty,'' Ferguson said. ``When producers were able to talk to neighbors and work with them, we never had any problems.''

Jack Easton, president of the 2,000-member Tujunga Village Residents Association in Studio City, said he filed complaints with the EIDC after an automobile commercial was filmed in his neighborhood.

He said the EIDC hung notices on residents' doors the day before filming began, then converged on the neighborhood with dozens of workers and a convoy of production trucks and equipment. Filming lasted until 10 p.m.

``They need to request permission from a neighborhood,'' Easton said. ``This is the second time this has happened. It's counterproductive to the very intent of the EIDC to help the film industry, and it's driving them out of the area.

``They are infuriating homeowners and violating their right to live in a peaceful neighborhood.''

Goldman said that before EIDC began doing notification, there was no consistent way of letting residents know about film shoots. The agency introduced a notification method that includes a 24-hour, toll-free pager number for after-hours concerns, as well as a postage-paid return card so residents can comment about specific production companies and the EIDC can track complaints.

In neighborhoods that are very popular with film companies, Goldman said, the EIDC will meet with local residents and discuss ways to make filming less of an inconvenience.

EIDC failed on permits

Several producers and location managers, some who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said the investigation raises questions about how the agency is spending its $3 million-a-year budget and how well it's doing its job.

A Nickelodeon film producer who requested anonymity said the EIDC dropped the ball on getting parking permits, resulting in all the production trucks getting parking tickets.

``There is nobody who really wants to deal with the EIDC any more,'' he said. ``I am so fed up with these people. I would rather go to Ventura County, New York or Toronto - anything but to deal with them.''

A freelance location manager said the EIDC charges the companies she works for $100 per location to notify residents of filming, but frequently fails to follow through with the advisories.

``They say they are helping the film industry, but the permit costs have gotten so ridiculous with all the notification fees,'' she said. ``We have to pay triple what we used to pay and the EIDC doesn't notify people properly.''

After paying a $450 coordination fee and other fees the EIDC adds on, filming costs per location can go up to $8,000, she said.

Goldman says some of the fees are those levied by a city for using its facilities or those charged to hire a fire safety officer or for an off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officer to control traffic.

``We only charge $450 - not just for the one shoot, but to coordinate the approvals of up to 10 of those over two weeks,'' he said.

Another location manager said he doesn't get refunds on the deposits from the EIDC and the agency charges notification fees even when filming in rural areas.

``I think they are driving most of the filming out of this area,'' he said. ``More filming has gone out of this state than in any time in the history of California. They have almost ruined it to the point of irreparable damage.''

Managers complaining

A source inside the EIDC said many location managers have complained that the agency doesn't refund deposits and hires unreliable people to notify residents of filming.

``I can't tell you how many locations I've been to where neighbors had no clue what was going on,'' the source said.

Goldman said requests for refunds are forwarded to the appropriate city or county agency, which notifies the EIDC how much to refund.

``Regrettably, the city and county departments don't move on this as quickly as we would hope,'' he said.

Despite complaints by some local filmmakers, the EIDC does have its defenders. Matt Miller, president and chief executive officer of the Association of Independent Commercial Producers in New York, said there is inherently friction between neighborhoods and productions.

``That is in every city everywhere,'' he said. ``But I disagree entirely that the EIDC isn't doing a good job in managing the process. I harken back to the pre-1995 days when there were separate county and city film offices and it was absolutely disorganized and really tough to do our jobs.''

Peter Novak, location manager for the upcoming feature movie ``Hollywood Homicide,'' said filming productions keep getting bigger and bigger, and neighborhoods grow weary over the disruptions and inconvenience.

``For this film, we are shutting down Hollywood Boulevard for several days,'' said Novak, who has also worked on ``Three Kings,'' ``Clear and Present Danger'' and ``Patriot Games.''

``The only way we would be allowed to make this film is with the EIDC's serious support. I know everyone has their personal view on the EIDC, but for the films I do, they've been great.''
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Comment:EIDC CHASES FILMING OFF, CRITICS SAY PRODUCERS GIVE FILM OFFICE BAD REVIEWS OVER 'ABUSE,' HIGH FEES, DOUBLE BILLING.(News)
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 26, 2002
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