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Showing posts with label News. Show all posts
Showing posts with label News. Show all posts

November 11, 2018

Altadena Filming Committee submits report on filming permit accountability

The Altadena Filming Committee has prepared a report addressing accountability in Los Angeles County’s filming permit approval and enforcement processes. The report was prepared in response to the issue raised most often to the Committee: the lack of accountability by County departments.

The report is the result of an 18-month committee effort reviewing the County’s official documents and interviewing the County officials and contractors responsible for filming permits. The report identifies gaps between the required duties and current practice. It concludes with findings intended to explain how accountability problems arise from those gaps and provides a set of recommendations intended to address them.

The Committee report lists the following findings:
  • The agency responsible for approving filming permit applications and assessing filming impact lacks enforcement authority and the agency with enforcement authority does not assess nor mitigate any disruptive impacts of filming.

  • The authority to regulate filming frequency is vested in a County ordinance, but no County department appears to take responsibility for enforcing the ordinance.

  • The Terms and Conditions of a filming permit provide County officials with limited options for enforcement of filming permit conditions. The choices are suspend, revoke, cancel, or amend the permit. Given the draconian nature of each option, these options are seldom applied.

  • None of the County departments was able to provide written documentation of its filming permit approval and enforcement policies. The information about permits comes from informal verbal responses that are often inconsistent.

Based on the Committee’s findings, the Committee made the following recommendations:
  • Unify the permit application evaluation and approval process into a single office.

  • Provide additional enforcement mechanisms that can be reasonably applied to enforce of filming permit conditions.

  • Require that the Permit Authority specify an on-set County representative who has been delegated the authority to enforce permit conditions.

  • Institute a program of documenting the County’s permit approval and enforcement policies.

The Filming Committee's report may be timely. According to the County's Film Liaison, Gary Smith, the County is preparing a revision to the County's filming-related ordinances. The Town Council has sent the report to Supervisor Barger with an appeal to help improve accountability on the part of the County departments.

The letter to Supervisor Barger and the Committee report are available on the Altadena Town Council Website

September 5, 2018

Altadena Filming Committee raises concerns about County CEO inputs to new filming ordinance

LA County is in the process of revising its filming ordinance. The revision was requested by the Board of Supervisors in in May 2017.

According to the County's Film Liaison, Gary Smith, "The goal of the revisions is to clarify language as it relates to enforcement of permit conditions, criteria used to approve permits, and other areas of the Code that will strengthen the County’s role in facilitating responsible filming." This could be the first major revision to the principal filming ordinance1 in nearly 30 years.

The revisions to the County code could be of special interest to Altadeneans since District 5 is the busiest filming district in the County and Altadena is the busiest filming township in District 5. (see First look: permit data for unincorporated communities in LA County)

The Town Council has recently posted correspondence between the Filming Committee and the LA County CEO about the new ordinance. In that exchange, the Committee raised issues about a letter signed by Jim Jones, the CEO's Chief Operation Officer. The Committee was concerned that this letter from the CEO might mislead the County officials who are drafting the new ordinance.

The Committee's response called out the following areas of concern:
  • The CEO's letter stated that law enforcement was required for any filming in Altadena. The committee was concerned that the authors of the new ordinance might misunderstand the CEO and conclude that the presence of a law officer was a sufficient to enforce permit conditions.

  • The CEO's letter listed criteria used for evaluating and enforcing a filming permit. Those evaluation criteria included considerations of duration, proximity, frequency and "any other criteria relevant." The Committee noted that the criteria and methods used for permit approval and enforcement were not documented and subject to being inconsistent and unfair. Consequently, the committee was concerned that these listed criteria might be mistakenly perceived to be sufficient to address known permit violations.

  • The CEO's letter stated that Community filming surveys are required when filming is requested beyond normal hours. 2 The Committee noted that Community members have raised numerous complaints that the surveys are perfunctory and unresponsive. The committee was concerned that these surveys may be mistakenly perceived as effective methods for assessing the concerns of nearby residents and businesses.
The Committee's letter concluded with a request to meet with the CEO for the purpose of drafting a follow-on memo that would prevent possible misunderstandings from influencing the draft of the new ordinance.

Gary Smith, the County's Film Liaison, responded to the Filming Committee. He pointed out that the CEO inputs were only intended to clarify current procedures. They were not recommendations. He went on to say that FilmL.A. responds to complaints in a "timely and constructive manner." He also clarified that law enforcement is not required for all filming and that Community surveys are always required when normal hours are exceeded or "the filming conditions might have detrimental impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods."

The entire correspondence between the CEO and the Altadena Filming Committee is available at

A final note of special interest: According to Mr. Smith, the draft revision of the filming ordinance will be ready fpr public comment early next month. There are supposed to be public meetings. Perhaps there will be a meeting in Altadena.

Stay tuned.

1 Chapter 2.118 - Filming Permit Coordination Office, Ord. 90-0093 § 3, 1990.)
2 Board policy 3.125 states the hours are 7a-10p.

July 28, 2018

Filming history for Altadena locations now available on the Altadena Filming Map

We have added a new feature to our Altadena filming map. Users who click on a map marker may now see a 10-year history of filming activity for the location at that marker.

Click here to expand the map
The map was generated from LA County filming permit data

Here are the steps to view the filming activity for a location
  1. Click on the marker for that location (orange or reddish color.) A legend will appear on the left with summary information about that location. A link now appears at the bottom of the legend under the title "all filming."
  2. Click on the "all filming" link. A new tab will open with a table showing the 10-year filming history for that location.
Example listing of film history at an Altadena Location

Please note: The listing capability only applies to locations with street addresses like private residences, parks and businesses. Locations are designated by orange or reddish colored markers. Currently the map does not provide the detailed listing of activity on streets and grid. Streets and grids are designated by blueish markers.

Please send along any comments, questions or suggestion for improving the map.

July 6, 2018

10 years of filming data for the LA Region now available on this site

AltadenaFilming has posted 10 years of filming data for the LA Region. The data is derived from public records and is freely available on this site.

The data was compiled from publicly available filming permits downloaded from FilmL.A.'s Online Permit System (OPS). We believe this a unique compilation of filming data for the LA Region.

The data was extracted from filming permits issued during the period from the 2nd quarter of 2008 through the 1st quarter of 2018. Over 180,000 permits were collected and analyzed. During the 10-year period, there are more that 300,000 times a Los Angeles-area location was permitted for filming.

Each record of location filming includes the following information:
  • Production company
  • Production title
  • Location manager
  • Permit number (for looking up the actual permit in OPS
  • Permit type (e.g. feature, sitcom, commercial, etc)
  • Year
  • All production dates including prep, filming and strike
  • Total production days for each production activity
  • Location address including street address, city and zip code
  • Type of location (e.g. private residence, school, park, etc.)
  • Jurisdiction (e.g. LA City or LA County)
Here's a link to a directory with filming data for the LA Region:

The data is available as either a zipped tab-delimited text file or an Excel spreadsheet.  If you download the data, please take note of the "readme", "release-information" and "errata" documents.

The data could be used for a variety of studies. For example: the history of filming at a location, the history of filming at private residence or the year-to-year variations in filming frequency for an area zip code. AltadenaFilming used the data to create a filming frequency map of Altadena.

The data was collected as part of project to estimate the amount of untaxed, film-rental income in the Los Angeles region. For an account of how the data was acquired see

AltadenaFilming provides other data sets as well.  To see the complete collection check our our "Filming data" page.

June 25, 2018

Altadena filming frequency map

AltadenaFilming has posted a new map that charts a 10-year history of filming frequency in Altadena and the unincorporated neighborhoods in adjacent zip codes. The data for the map was derived from filming permits issued by LA County's filming permit service, FilmL.A.

The map illustrates two types of filming activity: filming at individual locations and filming on area streets and grids. Scaled location markers are used to show varying levels of filming activity.

For more information about the map see Altadena Filming Frequency Map in the "AF Resources" menu.

Click here to expand the map.

Coming this Fall: The Altadena Filming Frequency Map will be upgraded. Each location will include a clickable link that displays the history of permitted productions that occurred at each location.

For an account of how the data was acquired see

The source data for the map is available at

February 26, 2018

Altadena Filming Committee posts a filming FAQ

The Altadena Town Council's Filming Committee has posted a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) document about filming in Altadena.

The FAQ provides Altadena Council members, neighbors and businesses a reference for how LA County runs its filming permit policies and processes. The FAQ also provides advice for those who may have concerns about a filming in their area.

The Altadena filming FAQ is the first document of its kind in the LA County. Until now there has not been a publicly available document that details how LA County manages and enforces filming permits.

Click here to accesses the FAQ.

The FAQ was prepared with information gathered from a year-long series of meetings with Los Angeles County officials. According to Anne Chomyn, Filming Committee Chair, the committee is continuing its work. "We will be updating the FAQ periodically as more information about location filming comes in."

The FAQ includes information on the following topics:
  • Who approves permits?
  • Are there any limits on filming?
  • What are permitted conditions and how are they enforced?
  • Who has access to the filming permit?
  • Are there Special Filming Conditions for Altadena?
  • Who gets notified about a film shoot?
  • What's the role of onsite law enforcement?
There's also a contact list for County officials who play a role in the film permitting and enforcement process.

It is recommended that anyone with questions should check the website for the latest version of the document.

August 4, 2017

CEO responds to Filming Committee Report: Effective remedy? Bland reassurance?

Back in the old school days, we would explain away any inexplicable coincidence with a standard refrain:
24 hours in a day. 24 beers in a case. Coincidence? I think not.
(The last phrase was always recited in unison.)
If you happen to be interested in the County's management of filming, consider this intriguing coincidence:
On May 2nd the County Supervisors instructed LA County Counsel "to review... and provide recommended ammendments to the County Code, as, to ensure...enforcement authority to address violations of the film permitting process..."

By pure chance, on June 20th, the Altadena Filming Committee submitted its End of Year Report. The report included recommendations that addressed issues and concerns about filming raised by Altadenans.
Here was an a rare opportunity for the Town Council to influence the formulation of new County Codes — after all, we are just forty thousand in a County of ten million. On June 21st, the Council voted to send the Filming Committee's report to Supervisor Barger. Barger then forwarded that report to the County CEO with the request that they review the report and provide their own inputs.

On July 5th, The County CEO sent a response to the Town Council. AltadenaFilming has obtained a copy of that letter thanks to the generous cooperation of the County's Film Liaison.*

In a nutshell, the CEO's letter said that the County will "take into consideration the Altadena Town Council Filming Committee's recommendations" and then provided "additional input" to be used in the amendment process.

Here is that 'input' excerpted directly from the CEO's letter:
  • The following is considered when evaluating a permit:
    1. Location, duration and frequency of filming at the hosting property, including historical use
    2. Location, duration and frequency of activity near the requested location, including parking areas
    3. Proximity of concurrent filming activities and other activities such as street maintenance
    4. Production company size, number of filming days requested and proposed activities, including parking
    5. Any other criteria that may be relevant to the specific situation
  • Generally, the CHP or the Sheriff are required for any filming in the Altadena area for safety and/or filming related activity, including parking.
  • FiImLA currently maintains notes regarding specific community issues, concerns or complaints related to such issues as generator placement and parking restrictions at specific locations.
  • FiImLA has a review process in place for frequently used properties. Properties of concern a re currently flagged in FiImLA's On-Line Permitting System (OPS) and requests to film at these locations require additional review and discussion with a FiImLA Operations Manager (OM). The OM will direct the FiImLA Coordinator to contact affected stakeholders to discuss the filming request, and determine next steps in addressing concerns or potential issues.
  • The County requires that a Community Filming Survey be done for film permit requests that film more than five consecutive days in a row or outside of the normal filming hours. The radius to be surveyed is established by FiImLA based on the location, filming activity, and parking requirements. It is the responsibility of the Production Company to conduct the survey and return the responses back to FiImLA with enough time for FiImLA to evaluate the survey package and make permit adjustments as necessary. FiImLA can arrange review of Community Film Surveys at their office.
  • Riders are issued for minor changes to a film permit. Riders are not used to authorize late night or all-night shoots.
The list corresponds to the current practices often described in public meetings by FilmLA and other County representatives. If taken at face value, these practices might just be sufficient to remedy all the issues raised in the Filming Committee's End of Year Report. If that were true, why bother amending the County Code?

But, are these current practices really effective?

Last year NBC4 reported that, in 2015, FilmLA received nearly 3,000 complaints about filming. And, at the Altadena Town Hall on Filming this past Spring, over a hundred community members turned out to raise concerns.

If current practices were effective, why so many issues and concerns?

The CEO's list may provide a clue. The items on the list are heavy on discretion and light of the specifics that determine permit content and approval. For example: They use different criteria, like filming frequency to evaluate a permit application, but how are those criteria used? How frequent is too frequent? Is the evaluation arbitrary? They say that a law officer is generally required on a shoot? What are the grounds for an exception? In those exceptional cases, who ensures filming conditions are met? They point out that community surveys are required, but does the methodology warrant a reliable result? They say they maintain notes about community issues, but what end do they serve? If these notes are part of the decision process, who ensures these notes are accurate?

Without constraining specifics, the film permitting process is open ended, and the CEO's 'additional input' amounts to little more that a recital of bland reassurances — essentially an appeal to trust the status quo.

How could we tell? Is the current practice, as described in the CEO's list, effective practice or bland reassurance? More importantly, how could a conscientious staff attorney in the County Counsel's office tell?

Getting a few facts would go a long way towards getting things right. If AltadenaFilming found itself in the difficult position of formulating fair-minded amendments to the County Code, here's a few things we would want to know about the "additional input":
  • Are the specifics described in governing documents? If not, why not?
  • Are these requirements on the permitting process or are just informal guidance?
  • If these are requirements, how does the County currently ensure all the listed activities are performed?
  • How does the County currently determine if current practice is effective?
  • How does the County currently determine if issues like those documented in the End of Year Report are the result of insufficient enforcement tools?
There's a point to those questions: You cannot enforce a rule if you don't know what it is. You cannot improve a rule unless unless you know its intent. And, you cannot know if a rule meets its intended purpose unless you assess its effectiveness.

No telling what pressures might be pressing of the County Counsel. Perhaps they will have the independence to examine the underlying film permitting process as part of their effort to amend the County code. If they do, we hope they make those discoveries publicly available — it would be a significant first step towards making the film permitting process more transparent.

* The County's Film Liasion manages the FilmLA contract. Among other duties, they are responsible for conducting annual performance reviews of FilmLA. The Office of the County Film Liaison has recently been moved from the County's CEO office of Office of Unincorporated Area Services to the Office of Economic Development Affordable Housing Division.

June 26, 2017

Altadena Filming Committee releases End of Year Report

The Altadena Filming Committee completed its End of Year Report. Following the release of the report, the Town Council approved a motion to send it to County Supervisor Barger.

The report is now available on the Altadena Town Council website.  Click here to view or download.

The report includes a summary of the committee's accomplishments, a listing of the undocumented policies and procedures that govern the approval and enforcement of filming permits, a summary of the inputs received from the community, an analysis of root causes for filming-related issues and set of recommendations for addressing these same issues.

In summary, the committee reported there is general community support for location filming in Altadena. However, film shoots have become problematic when "permit conditions are violated [or] when neighbors are not respected." Both a lack of accountability and a lack of transparency were highlighted as root causes. The recommendations in the report were formulated to address these issues, "so as to improve the experience of location filming for the neighbors of location hosts and to maintain a film-friendly environment."

It's worth remembering that, on May 2nd, the County Supervisors requested that LA County Counsel develop "recommended amendments to the County Code, as necessary, to ensure that County departments have the necessary enforcement authority to address violations of film permitting..."

It might just be the Altadena Filming Committee's End of Year Report arrived in time to provide inputs into LA County Counsel's recommended improvements to the County code.

May 26, 2017

LA County Supervisors seek a "film friendly environment"

A little over month ago, FilmLA reported a dip in feature-film production: there were 416 fewer on-location shoot days this year than for the same period last year. That's a drop of 36%. While the total drop for on-location shooting days was just 2.2% (9,496 this year compared to 9,703 last year), the decrease is noteworthy because features tend to have large crews.

It would appear that this FilmLA report caught the attention of our County Supervisors. Not long after the report appeared, our Supervisors passed a resolution for the County CEO to investigate ways to "enhance collaboration and support of the film industry." They want the County to take a "proactive role in retaining and growing [the] industry."

Here's a list of the actions the Supervisors put on the CEO's to-do list with a smattering of AF commentary:
  • "...Examine the CEO Film Liaison’s responsibilities and report back to the Board in 60 days with recommendations to strengthen its role in facilitating filming and relationships with film production entities;"
    AF commentary: Board members say have heard from film companies representatives that many County facilities (e.g. beaches) are great for filming, but working through the County bureaucracy is too complicated. The film companies need 1-stop shopping.

    There is a small mystery here. Who is the CEO's Film Liaison? They can't be googled and you won't find this person on the CEO's website. We've send out a query and will update this posting if we get a reply.
  • " film and license fees charged by the County and Non-Profit Foundations operating on County-owned property and report back to the Board in 60 days with recommended reductions, in order that Los Angeles County can be competitive with other local jurisdictions;
    AF commentary: FilmLA provides an outline of the cost for some LA County locations. To see the fees for locations like beaches click here.
  • "...coordinate with the Departments of Regional Planning, Parks, Public Works, Fire and the Sheriff’s Department, and any other appropriate County code enforcement department to review and, within 60 days, provide recommended amendments to the County Code, as necessary, to ensure that County departments have the necessary enforcement authority to address violations of the film permitting process by property owners and production companies.
    AF commentary: Is it the Supervisors intention to look at enforcement of filming permits in general? Possibly. Consider this from the preamble to the motion
    "...[Since] the County wants to encourage a film friendly environment, we must also be assured that private property owners and production companies adhere to the permitting and licensing processes established by the County; and that the County has the enforcement tools needed to ensure compliance and lessen potential filming related impacts on our local communities. To that end, the County Code sections related to film permitting and enforcement should be reviewed and, if necessary, amended to allow appropriate enforcement and compliance with the County Code."
    The current County code says little about the enforcement of filming permit conditions. There are methods of enforcement described in the FilmLA contract and the 'Terms and Conditions' associated with each permit; however, enforcement is very coarse grained. There is only one enforcement option: permit cancellation.

    For links to the relevant ordinances or the FilmLA contract and what they say about enforcement, check out our Legalities and Analysis tab.
If you happened to attended the Filming Town Hall or read the minutes, you will recall that permti enforcement was a main area of concern. Perhaps our Supervisor Barger got wind of the meeting. Perhaps there's this is an effort to address some of the those concerns. Or perhaps it's just coincidence.

What ever the case, something important may be about to happen.

May 13, 2017

Altadena Film Committee posts notes from the Town Meeting

Did you attend the Altadena Town Meeting on Filming?
Are you interested in seeing how the Film Committee documented the proceedings?

If so...  There's a couple bits of good news.
  • You officially have too much time on your hands.
  • The Filming Committee has posted meeting notes which are detailed enough to consume a respectable portion of your spare time.
The Committee's meeting notes are now on the Town Website.  Here'a link.

March 30, 2017

Altadena confidential: Tinsel Town Meets Christmas Tree Lane

By Michele Zack
Reprinted with permission of Altadena Heritage.
The article first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of the Altadena Heritage Newsletter

The theme of our fall/winter newsletter has been controversial for 100 years: the effects of Hollywood and filming in Altadena. Some digging provides historical perspective on the industry that helped expand California’s economy into the largest in the U.S. and sixth largest in the world, even as it can strain neighbor relations and baffle many who simply want to know what the rules governing location shoots are, and if and when they are enforced.

A New Regional Industry

This Altadena Victorian cottage was turned into  a winter
wonderland for a U.S. Postal Service shoot.
Photo by Russ Fega.
Altadena’s relationship to Hollywood and filming began after the turn of the 20th century, when the new industry moved here from New York because of our weather. Lighting technology was not yet well developed, and shooting outdoors yielded the best results. The first film theater in the country opened in Los Angeles in 1902, and Altadena, along with neighboring Sierra Madre, got into the game early. Director D.W. Griffith shot The Gold Seekers, The Twisted Trail, and Fighting Blood (with Lionel Barrymore) in Sierra Madre in 1909 and 1910. Altadena and the Mount Lowe Railroad were featured in Mack Sennett’s 1912 comedy What the Doctor Ordered starring Mabel Normand, who in the following decade retreated from scandal to our community.

Altadena’s documented claims on early Hollywood glamour, however, seem to have had more to do with millionaires, social connections, and alcohol than as a filming location. Films were shot here — but since most were not directed by lionized filmmakers such as Griffith (who went on to direct Birth of a Nation, which was first acclaimed, and later condemned for its racism and glorification of the Klu Klux Klan), not much paper trail exists.

Our community was viewed as a “district” of Pasadena best known for wealth, mansions, hotels, and tourism. In 1919, Paramount Pictures’ Cecile B. De Mille opened an airfield — his third — on leased land adjacent to the Country Club (established in 1911, often called the Pasadena Golf Club) on Mariposa Street — in partnership with Pasadena’s Board of Trade and the Linnard Hotel chain. The movie mogul grasped the synergy between the sexy new civil aviation industry and his own, and established the Mercury Aviation Company to profit from it. This company offered the country’s first scheduled flights, and built DeMille Fields #1 and #2 in Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Stunt flying was heavily featured in early films, and our local airfield and Country Club hosted aviators, actors, and assorted hangers-on.

Actress Gloria Swanson in 
Don’t Change Your Husband, (1919)
On the festive opening day of DeMille Field #3, also known as the Pasadena Airfield, movie star Gloria Swanson, of Keystone Cops fame, arrived in one of three Curtiss Jennies, drawing more attention from the Los Angeles Times than city officials and hotel executives as she extricated herself from the tiny aircraft. “Fliers and Filmites” were more exciting and captured all the headlines. Swanson was under a new contract to Paramount, where DeMille quickly transformed her from comedienne to romantic lead. It is unknown whether her paramour, Altadena’s millionaire flyboy and businessman “Craney” Gartz, had influenced the selection of the new field’s location. Fifty years later, what Swanson remembered chiefly about Craney was that he “kissed as well as he danced, or better.”

Prohibition, Filmites, and Real Estate

People poured into booming Prohibition-era Southern California, and Altadena was among its fastest-growing communities. Airfield #3 lasted only until 1921, when the value of its 30 acres soared. Pasadena’s Board of Trade lost its lease, and tony new homes on some of Altadena’s last open land proliferated around the Country Club.

As a private club in unincorporated Los Angeles County, this facility escaped Pasadena’s primness and strict alcohol-law enforcement. Perhaps that prompted Italian immigrant Joseph Marcell Annechini in 1923 to re-imagine his downtown Los Angeles watering hole as a remote Altadena “Country Inn” with gardens and private rooms at top of Lincoln Avenue. There, land was affordable and the heat was off. His film industry clientele happily followed the searchlight beacon mounted atop the Marcell Inn to Annechini’s new speakeasy, and Hollywood gossip columns through the 1930s are peppered with references to it as a place actors such as Buster Crabbe and Frances Ford, famed studio executives, and racetrack gamblers entertained — even after some were caught in a 1924 federal raid that yielded 300 arrests.

Industry types were gravitating to Altadena, and one, David Haney, planned in 1923 to develop a “film colony” and studio here for his production company, “The Popular Players.” The plan was defeated by the Altadena Citizens’ Association, whose spokesman W.S. Grassle said: “We do not want motion-picture people in the neighborhood . . . We have had enough of that sort of thing from the Hollywood Companies . . . They bring noise, confusion, and an undesirable class of people with them. We have no liking for film actors in Altadena.”

It was too late. For better and for worse, Hollywood had discovered Altadena. The Los Angeles Times of the 1920s and 30s is full of reports of “filmites” such as May Marsh, “looking blooming as a rose. . . coming into town from her Altadena home” long enough to sign a contract to star in a series of films. Screen actress Barbara La Marr, known as the “too beautiful girl,” died at her Boston Street home in 1926 — and lay in state for several days to accommodate grieving fans.

Tinseltown scandal also scampered up our slopes: the 1922 shooting death of director William Desmond Taylor was linked (perhaps erroneously) to his plan to testify against girlfriend Mabel Normand’s cocaine dealer. Normand, the last person known to see Taylor alive, disappeared after his murder to “her bungalow at 1101 Foothill Boulevard” (now Altadena Drive). While never charged, she was nonetheless tarnished by the incident; her parents rushed from New York to nurse “the winsome comedienne’s” nerves that had barely recovered when, in 1924, millionaire oil broker Courtland Dines was shot with Normand’s pistol. Apparently, the driver did it.

Hollywood’s early boisterousness calmed toward the end of the Depression and through World War II — at least in terms of newsworthy references to Altadena. Undoubtedly, filming in Altadena continued to grow as the industry expanded.

But until 1982, only cities — not Los Angeles County — considered regulating filming or keeping data on it! At the end of that year, the Board of Supervisors finally proposed “Strict Curbs on TV, Movie Filming in Unincorporated Areas,” according to the Los Angeles Times. An Altadena home “used for filming five times in six months” was cited by the county planner responsible for the zoning ordinance requiring production companies to obtain permits from a new “filming coordination office.” Limiting shooting days to 10 a year per property (with extensions possible), and requiring that production companies pay the costs of sheriff and fire department services were parts of the ordinance passed January, 1983.

Modern Times

Since then, Los Angeles County has revoked and revised, rethought and redelegated enforcement of filming policies in its unincorporated areas many times.

Because problems and confusion about permitting persists, the Altadena Town Council recently established a subcommittee led by Ann Chomyn to gather and disseminate information about filming. Most Altadenans appear to value filming’s contributions to our local and regional economy, yet want reasonable limitations that enforce rules and stop the overuse of a small number of properties.

Jeff Bridges photographed on the porch of
Altadena’s Woodbury House during 2010 remake of True Grit.
Laws such as one allowing 14 tax-free shooting days a year, and the outsourcing of film permits and enforcement to FilmLA, a private non-profit funded entirely through film permit sales, are part of a dynamic environment. Our region, which as recently as 2004 hosted more than 60 percent of Hollywood’s location shoots, has seen these outsourced to cheaper places offering greater incentives — so that today fewer than half are filmed locally.

In 2014, the Milken Institute reported that California had lost 16,000 production jobs over the previous eight years — most to New York, which grants film tax credits four times higher than those allowed here. Other states and Canada also offer greater incentives.

Filming in Altadena Today

Sharon Northrup, who handles filming for Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum (established in 1881, it is Altadena’s oldest continuously operating business) says community filming relations “all come down to communication, very careful scheduling, and good production companies. The people we work with are great.” Crews film about 10 days a month there (more than anywhere else in Altadena). This supplements Mountain View’s regular income and helps maintain its 62 acres, while allowing for capital projects such as resurfacing roads. The Mausoleum lot is also used as “Base Camp” for other productions in Altadena, so that actors and employees can park there and be shuttled to shooting locations.

“Because we have room for parking, we don’t disturb neighbors much,” she says. “We also schedule filming to not interfere with services or funerals. If conflicts arise — say, people we hadn’t planned on turn up to visit — the production company knows it has to stop until we say go.”

Mountain View’s traditional business remains its core, but Northrup says filming is crucial to its financial health. “But you never know when filming might go away. It was down (after the 2008 recession) but seems to be coming back.” She added “Local restaurants get lots of business; we work with the same companies, and their crews all know about Fair Oaks Burger, Pizza of Venice, El Patron, and others. . . Fair Oaks Burger even got a little shoot of its own.”

Filming at Zorthian Ranch, another Altadena institution, has helped Alan Zorthian keep his head above water in maintaining that 45-acre piece of open space.

“We’ve done quite a few music videos: Sean Lennon, One Direction, etc., fashion shoots, and one TV Show, Aquarius, with David Duchovny playing a detective in the 1960s dealing with a Manson-esque sort of cult,” he says. “Most of the people we work with are responsible, and they really like shooting up here. They know they have to behave or they might not get to come back,” he said.

2010 episode of CSI: Miami
Photo by Tom Davis

The Future of Filming

But it would be better for regional prosperity and good neighbor relations if the rules were more understandable. The County has to respond to changing circumstances, but reinventing the wheel every 10 years without much transparency has forced some residents to press for clarity. Particularly in “problem” locations and blocks, designating a number of shoot days allowed each property, as in the past, and possibly cap total days permitted on the block, would benefit everyone. In the long run (we hope Hollywood continues its long run, and includes us!) clear, fair rules equitably enforced are the best way to spread the magic, and the wealth, of Hollywood to Altadena.

December 22, 2016

Filming organizations give back to Altadena for Christmas

Photo from FilmLA news release

It's the charitable season and it seems like a good time to recognize a couple of organizations who are connected with the film industry and have been giving back to our community.

We would like to tip our hat to FilmLA and Altadena Community Chest for their charitable efforts in our community.

FilmLA is LA County's contractor responsible for issuing filming permits in Altadena. This year, the staff at FilmLA organized a toy drive for the Altadena's Five Acres Orphanage and Foster Home. The staffers purchased toys as well as toothbrushes, underwear, socks and bedding for the kids in the foster home.

The Altadena Community Chest is a 501c(3) charity connected with a local film location service called Home Shoot Home. Both are run by Altadenean Russ Fega. Mr. Fega's has worked with film companies (like ABC/Disney) and with local filming hosts to promote a give-back philosophy. Since 2011 Altadena Community Chest had obtained over $32,000 and donated the proceeds to several local charities. (2011:$4,810, 2012:10,195, 2013:8,300, 2014:$3,600, 2015:$5,822). In our view this is a most impressive effort by Mr. Fega to give back. We hope others in the filming organizations, who operate in Altadena, will follow his generous example.

December 19, 2016

Altadena Heritage Newsletter features local filming

The Fall/Winter issue of the Altadena Heritage Newsletter includes a focus on filming in Altadena. The issue includes articles about the history of filming going back to the days of Cecil B. DeMille, a local charity supported by filming, the origins of, the Town Council's new Altadena Filming Committee and the recollections of local resident who has successfully hosted film shoots for over 20 years.
Click here to see the Fall issue of the Altadena Heritage newsletter

If you are interested in filming in Altadena, check out this Fall/Winter issue.

October 26, 2016

Q3 Report: Location filming in LA is still on the upswing

Good news for those Altadeneans concerned about runaway film production: on-location filming in the LA remains on a solidly upward trend. More production is staying local.

According to FilmLA, Q3 location filming is up 3% from the same period last year. The Q3 results are similar to Q2 results. There were nearly 10,000 shoot days in greater Los Angeles. (The actual number will be higher since FilmLA does not provide filming permits for all parts of LA County.)
FilmLA report on total shoot days in Q3 2016

Here's a comparison of the data with the same quarter last year:
  • There were 57 fewer feature shoot days (i.e. movies)
  • There were 33 fewer commercial shoot days
  • 115 more TV shoot days
  • 118 more 'other' shoot days (e.g. web productions)
That's a total bump of 133 total shoot days since last year.

Note: It appears that there's a problem with FilmLA's arithmatic. Their total 9,795 is 142 days higher than the sum of the reported individual totals for features, commercials, TV and 'other.'

If you're wondering why the good news,  look no farther than the California's Film and Television Tax Credit Program.  Back in 2009, the Legislature passed the "Film and Television Tax Credit Program 1.0" in order to reverse the trend of runaway production. The program started to take effect in 2010. In 2104 the Legislature passed "Film and Television Tax Credit Program 2.0" a new version with a bigger pot: $300M+ in tax credits per year for the film industry.

The new numbers are especially interesting when compared to Q3 2010.
FilmLA data (see page after p.23)
In case you're arithmetically challenged like me (or FilmLA), here's a handy table that should make the comparison between Q3 2010 to Q3 2016 easy.

Q3 2016Q3 2010Change
Features 1,089 1,001 +88
TV 4,423 2,595 +1,828
Commercials 1,245 854 +391
Other 2,896 1,953 +943
Total 9,653 6,403 +3,250 

That's an increase in shoot days of nearly 50% in 6 years. Clearly the tax credit program is working. Of course the boon in production could be affected by other influences like the on-going SAG/AFTRA strike against video game producers. Meanwhile the film production biz is thriving in our area.

Ironically, this success provides a challenge for the agencies like FilmLA and the California Film Commission who are obliged to declaim the success of the program while doing some convincing hand wringing or run the risk of losing the government subsidies. It must be a precarious balance.   Unless of course film industry corporations would wield some political influence that might help tilt the scales.... nah.

August 4, 2016

Q2 Report: The Business is good in LA

Today's posting has been salvaged from the pile of things that once-seemed-interesting-and-might-still-be. So we hope you will find this tidbit of YESTERDAY'S NEWS TODAY useful if you're in need of a impressive dinner party topic.

According to a recent report from FilmLA, the film BIZ is really hopping in LA County. The credit for the boom in business goes to Governor Brown's generous $1.55B Film and Television Tax Credit Program 2.0.
The smattering of readers who follow along here might recall an earlier post where it was suggested that a more descriptive name for the Governor's Program might be "Film/Television Tax Credit and Accountant Full-Employment Program." Back to yesterday's news..)
from the FilmLA Report (7/12/2016):
"Feature Film Production on the Increase in Los Angeles"
Way back on July 12th, FilmLA reported that there were nearly 10,000 on-location shooting days between April Fool's Day and July 4th--otherwise know as Q2. That's up about 6% from Q2 2015. Not quite up to the Q1 2016 bonanza when production was up 10% from 2015, but still impressive. Overall for 2016, FilmLA reports there have been nearly 20,000 shoot days in Los Angeles County during 2016.

If you're like me, the temptation to extrapolate from these figures is irresistible.

Consider this: the FilmLA data only includes data for LA City, LA County and a handful of other municipalities in the county. Let's say if we included on-location shoots for places like South Pasadena, Pasadena, La Canada, Glendale, Burbank and Monrovia, and added a very modest 10% to the total. In that case, we could estimate about 44,000 on-location shoot days in LA County for 2016. And, if you knock off a couple weeks for the Christmas holidays, that's nearly 900 shooting days per week or roughly 180 on-location shoots happening in LA County on a typical day.

While that's a sizable number, your chances of encountering a film shoot while running errands remains small. According to the infallible Wikipedia, there's about 4,000 square miles of land in LA County. All things being equal (which they never are) that suggests one shoot per every 22 square miles. You probably have a better chance of seeing a Delorean.

Apparently, the biggest growth in on-location shoot days was in feature production and TV pilots. Although the LA Times reports that LA's overall share of TV pilots is shrinking, that is not really worrisome since the production pie is getting bigger and the number of jobs is increasing.

However, if you happen to be a reality TV fan, the news isn't so good. Reality TV on-location shoot days is down over 8%. (That probably means that we aren't going to see "The Real Neighbors of Altadena" produced any time soon.)

According to the FilmLA press release, the main reason for this overall growth is the Film and Television Tax Credit Program 2.0. They claim it's only the start. Paul Audley, President of FilmLA, touts that “We expect these production increases to continue until the state’s incentive reaches full utilization.” In other words there still plenty of credits left in the kitty.

So who's getting in on the State's largess? Easy enough to find out. The California Film Commission has published the list of 28 winners who successfully competed for $109 million jackpot in tax credits. If the proceeds were split evenly, that would be about $4 million a piece.

Interestingly, nearly two-thirds are "non-independent" productions — meaning the budgets are greater than $10M and more than 25% of the production company is owned by a publicly traded company, like Disney. The Biggies are are winning out over the Indies.

Speaking of Disney: "A Wrinkle in Time" (a Disney production listed as Tesseract) was a tax-credit winner. "Wrinkle" is supposed to generate 400 jobs and $44 million in wages. Not a bad return for a $4 million dollar tax gimme.

From California’s Film & TV Tax Credit Program 2.0 Gains First $100 Million-Plus Feature
California Film Commission Press Release (8/2/16)

July 26, 2016

CityWatch Story: San Pedro Residents suggest filming could be better

Earlier this week CityWatch* ran a story, an OpEd piece really, about a disruptive film production that raised a stir among residents in San Pedro. The piece asserts that shoot would have been less disruptive if FilmLA had done a better job of coordinating with other city departments to delay or downsize the shoot. If they had, the film shoot might not have "annoyed" the locals.

The article raises the prospect of improving the system, but disparages the possibility of obtaining help from city government because "The industry has too much clout." Rather, the writer calls for neighborhood councils to have some "quiet, polite chats" with the film industry in the hope of reaching a better accommodation.

Here's a link to the full story on CityWatch.

*CityWatch is a LA City/County newsletter and website that covers topics on the neighborhood level.

July 21, 2016

FILMLA raises filming permit fees

LA County has approved a fee increase for filming permits. The new fees were announced by FilmLA on July 18 and will go into effect on August 1.

Click here to read FilmLA's announcement.

The rate increase for the Permit application is a modest $35/permit. However, FilmLA's fees (i.e. filimng permits in Altadena) are among the highest in the area — second only to those levied by Pasadena.

For a discussion of comparative permit fees in our part of the county see: Cost of a film permit in Altadena. Is it cheap?

July 8, 2016

KPCC story: Downtown LA Residents work to revise filming rules

Our local NPR station, KPCC, has run a story about a group of Downtown LA residents and business owner who are organizing to change the rules FilmLA uses when issuing filming permits.

Click here to see and hear the story.

June 1, 2016

LA County Supervisors vote to streamline film permitting across the county

For those who missed it...

Last week the Pasadena Star News reported that our LA County Supervisors want all the cities in the county to streamline their film permitting process. They cited the California Film Commission's Model Film Ordinance and Guidelines for Best Practices as a model for adoption.

Here's a link to the story:  LA County supervisors encourage streamlined filming regulations

If you have a chance, take a quick look at the Guidelines for Best Practices. They are  "film friendly." You won't see any recommendations in the Guideline that address concerns about the impact of filming on neighbors.

On the other hand...
The guidelines do recommend that cities protect filming from neighbors.   Here's the text:
"Consider adopting an ordinance parallel with the film permit ordinance that protects the orderly conduct of a permitted film event from persons who interfere.
Is it too much to hope that our Supervisors would have recommended a guidelines that encouraged a more balanced approach that promoted a sense of fairness?

Just sayin'...

May 3, 2016

NBC4 runs LA filming story

News pointer:  NBC4 ran a story about filming concerns in Los Angeles.  Here's a link.