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On-location filming is irksome in L.A.


LOS ANGELES -- Late one night, the residents of a downtown apartment complex woke up to war outside their windows.

The white beams of police helicopters sliced the dark. On the street below, cars crashed and burned. Glass and bullets flew.

For days afterward, some elderly tenants and others who were new to this country refused to go outside, afraid of the terror that awaited them.

As Eileen Burgard, general manager of the Bunker Hill Towers, explained, "They didn't understand it was a film shoot."

That incident galvanized downtown tenants, whose homes happen to be in an area that shows up regularly on movie and television screens. They asked the city to keep the explosions a half mile away; the city has offered a quarter mile. At least Burgard now receives what is known as a "shoot sheet," which warns what will be blown up where and when.

All around Los Angeles, people who live in the movie capital of the world are fed up with filming on location. They say they are tired of the traffic, noise and inconvenience that come with the cameras. More and more they are demanding money -- location scouts say bribes -- to allow filming in their neighborhoods. Even the people who make movies don't want film crews invading their blocks.

While Burgard says downtown tenants want only to be informed, home owners in other parts of Los Angeles County have taken to disrupting filming or forbidding it altogether.

"When you bring a film into a community, it's like taking a manufacturing concern and putting it in someone's yard," said Cody Cluff, head of the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., the nonprofit city-county partnership that issues film permits. "Once or twice it's interesting, but after 30 times it's not. We're beginning to reach the upper end of the limit of what people will tolerate."

One reason for the sudden intolerance is that Mayor Richard Riordan's emphasis on business hospitality has made Hollywood feel at home. Last year, Cluff said, the number of days that films, television shows and commercials were shooting in the county increased to 43,000 from 23,000 just two years earlier. More than 100 film crews were on the streets on any given day. The benefit to the local economy was $20 billion.

But not everyone wants their back yard doubling as a studio back lot.

Making noise

In late February, a Pacific Palisades homeowner had the crew of "Reasonable Doubt," starring Melanie Griffith, pounding on her door after she turned on her home alarm system. Veda Weisman says it was the only way to get the attention of a production crew that was blocking the foot of her driveway and flooding her house with lights from dusk to dawn.

Weisman and a band of Palisades neighbors say they also resented the two dozen or so tractor trailers that crowded the tiny cul de sac for more than two weeks, blocking their view of the ocean and endangering the fragile bluffs nearby.

"They were on top of me 24 hours a day; I felt like I had to ask their permission to get out of my own driveway," said Weisman, who eventually accepted $200 a day for the inconvenience. "I know they don't like noise, so I just went in and turned on the alarm. I guess they got the message."

Even the Los Angeles City Council has jumped into the not-in-my-backyard act. Last month, it barred mock gunfire near the South Central intersection of Florence and Normandie, a flash point of the 1992 riots.

"There's too much real shooting that goes on in the neighborhood," said Councilwoman Rita Walters, who introduced the measure. "Getting the permission of residents doesn't solve the problem, because the sound of gunfire travels a long way.

"It's not censorship," said Walters, who lives downtown and has put up with her share of movie-making nearby. "Nobody's keeping them from making their movie. But they don't have a constitutional right to go shooting up our streets and buzzing us with helicopters to make their movies."

Walters and other council members say they want stricter guidelines for filming, as well as better information about when filming will occur. Residents such as Frances Shalant, a board member of the Pacific Palisades Residents Association, want a say in what takes place in their neighborhoods -- and compensation for any inconvenience. Industry officials say they want residents to stop putting out their hands, although few expect that to happen.

While intentionally disrupting filmmaking is illegal, it occurs often enough that the stories have entered local lore: The small shop owner who demands $1,000 a day for lost business; the landscaping crew that mows a lawn once, then twice, then again. Recently, a couple threatened to blow whistles and blast the stereo unless the crew of a television show called "The People" paid up. Instead, the crew went to police, who had a talk with the would-be interlopers.

"It really just depends on your desperation, whether you can call their bluff or not," said Clayton Townsend, a producer working on "The People" and the new Oliver Stone movie "U-Turn." "It's certainly jaded around here. It seems like you never find a pocket that is excited about having filming around anymore."

Among the most jaded, filmmakers agree, are film people themselves. Location manager Boyd Wilson said he was recently working on the film "Boogie Nights" with Burt Reynolds and sought permission to film on a street where several directors, a TV sportscaster and actor William Shatner lived. They turned him down. "We said, 'Come on, we need a little professional courtesy here,' " Wilson said. "They just said, 'no.' They told us if we even tried they'd go to the mayor. So we found another street."

Little recourse

While residents with advance warning have some say on whether filming is allowed, they have little recourse once a permit has been issued. Rita Suwanich, deputy to Councilman Marvin Braude, whose district includes Pacific Palisades, said she tries to reason with angry neighbors and to get moviemakers to be as unobtrusive as possible.

"People say the whole point of living somewhere secluded is to not have people come bother them," Suwanich said. "Some are requesting money for each day of filming as payment, which is pretty much illegal. But their point is if you don't, you don't film."

Some areas like the Palisades have earned reputations for difficulty, a situation that Vice President Kathleen Milnes of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers insists is the exception. Instead, she said, people have come to understand that movie-making has helped drive the region's recovery.

Burgard, the apartment manager, said she realizes that movies made Hollywood and can remake the local economy. She says she doesn't want to put an end to nearby shoots. She doesn't even want to be paid for her trouble. She just wants Los Angeles, whose City Hall was filmed more than 60 times last year, to listen to the people who live there, and she says they are.

Pub Date: 5/26/97

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