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June 14, 2016

The deal: LA County's contract with FilmLA, Part II

In September of 2014, our LA County Supervisors renewed FilmLA's contract as the provider of film permitting services for the County. It's a 'no-cost, sole-source agreement.

 It's 'no cost' because FilmLA obtains its operating revenue from the permit fees it charges film companies. It's sole source because it's the only bona fide source for the County found for a film permitting service and because the Supervisors asked our County CEO to negotiate a contract with FilmLA — it was in the "best interest of the county."

The current contract runs until September 2019.

Is this the actual active FilmLA contract?   I can’t say for certain.  But, it’s likely to be pretty close.
Here’s why:
  • This version of the contract was used for public hearings in 2009 when FilmLA was awarded a sole- source agreement. (A meeting may not have happened.)
  • The contract has the signatures of both the President of FilmLA and the LA County counsel.
  • The 2104 renewal of the FilmLA amendment says all terms and conditions “will remain the same.”
To see the 2009 FilmLA contract, click here.
To see the 2014 renewal amendment, click here.
So what does the county get for free?
County Counsel put together a pretty good deal. Here's what FilmLA is required to provide:
  1. Coordinate and process film/still photography permits and fees for onlocation motion picture, television, and commercial production events
  2. Coordinate the issuance of film/still photography permits in a manner that balances the needs of, and attempts to mitigate the impact of productions on, area neighborhoods and merchant districts (my emphasis)
  3. Provide the County reports on a quarterly basis
  4. Market and promote the County to the entertainment industry
I summarized item #2 in a previous post. In this post I'll cover item #3: Provide the County reports on a quarterly basis.

Who keeps track?
The FilmLA contract seems to be quite the bargain. County Counsel has written up an agreement that provides for a fair balance of industry and community interests.  We're getting plenty.  And it's free!

For example, the contract requires that FilmLA to comply with all "applicable Federal, State and local laws, rules, regulations, ordinances, directives, guidelines, policies and procedures." Very thorough. For example, the Supervisors have a policy that requires FilmLA use "recycled bond paper when possible."  It boggles the mind to contemplate what other obligations might be lurking. What about cubicle size or prohibitions against popcorn in the microwave?  Clearly the agreement invokes enough rules to keep FilmLA on the straight and narrow.

Is there a report card?
No government agreement is worth the recycled paper it's printed on without accountability. Fortunately, that detail was not overlooked by the LACO legal beagles. In the section titled "County's Assurance Plan" they set out the following reporting requirement:
The County or its agent will evaluate the Contractor's performance under this Agreement on not less than an annual basis. Such evaluation will include assessing the Contractor's compliance with all Agreement terms and conditions and performance standards. (Section 8.15)
The County calls this agent the contract "Program Manager." So happens that when the Supervisors renewed FilmLA's contract in 2014 they named a manager on the County's CEO staff as the Program Manager. (The Program Manager's contact information is available on the contact list.

It's not clear when the Program Manager holds court or if these annual reports are publicly available. Gotta wonder what's in the reports?  Are they checking the copy room for fresh-from-the-forest copy paper?  What about checking on modifications to the permit issuance process to fix problems that drove up a production cost or caused ill-feeling in a neighborhood?  It would be interesting to discover what criteria are used in these evaluations.

Perhaps you're thinking, like I have, that FilmLA might only be reporting on attendance at the weekly birthday party or on the coffee-breaks-per-belly-button ratio while keeping potentially troubling data, like the frequency of film shoots, behind a Gru-like veil of proprietary secrecy. Well... we would be guilty an undeserved pessimism.

According a LACO ordinance (2.118.020) FilmLA is required to "Develop records, reports, and statistical data, including but not limited to, complaints, types, and number of permits, violations and area filming schedules." And, according to the "Public Records" section of the contract, these auditable documents become part of the public record.
Any documents and/or data submitted by the Contractor and all documents and/or data obtained in connection with the County's right to audit and inspect the Contractor's documents, books, and accounting records...become the exclusive property of the County. All such documents and/or data become a matter of public record and shall be regarded as public records. (Section 8.36)
So, in theory at least, the ordinance-mandated data that FilmLA collects should be part of the public record. In practice, this has not been the case. (see the Altadena Filming Permit Map was created).

It's worth noting that FilmLA occasionally publishes high-quality, business research reports about the status of the film production in the City and County. If you're interested in the topic, the reports are worthwhile.

The latest news? Business is good!  Here's a link to a list of FilmLA's research reports.

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