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L.A. residents worry they are in back lot

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LOS ANGELES - Not long after moving into his downtown Los Angeles loft, Jonathan Jerald awoke at 3 a.m. in a panic, blinded by a bright white light cascading across his bed.

"I thought I was being kidnapped by aliens," he said. "I was terrified, for a second, and then, of course, I knew what it was."

It was a film shoot, one of thousands of commercials, television shows or movies filmed on city streets each year. The film industry says such shoots - 44,000 of them in Los Angeles and unincorporated county areas last year - are minor annoyances that fuel a giant economic engine.

But in some areas of Los Angeles, such as Westwood, Pacific Palisades and downtown, residents complain that their neighborhoods have been turned into virtual studio back lots.

And now they are fighting back, urging the City Council to give neighborhoods more say in the way film shoots take place on city streets.

The film industry has reacted as though the council was about to slap an X rating on their top summer blockbuster. It warned that if residents were allowed to micro-manage film permits, studios would move their productions elsewhere, taking thousands of jobs with them.

"Producers have a lot of choices these days from as close as San Diego to as far away as Australia, Canada, Eastern Europe," said Melissa Patack, vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America. "This is the reality of what has become a global business."

After representatives from the film industry flooded City Hall and raised the specter of massive job losses, the council backed away from Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski's plan to give neighborhood councils a say in drafting new regulations for the agency that hands out film permits.

Instead, the council asked an accounting firm to hold community meetings and come up with a way to heed residents' concerns without scaring away the industry and the $30 billion it pumps into the local economy each year.

The meetings will begin this week, and both sides say they are hopeful. "It is a heartbreak every time we hear of the industry going other places," said Councilwoman Janice Hahn. "But our concern is also for the people who live in the communities. ... It is their quality of life on a daily basis."

Lindsley Parsons Jr., director of the embattled Entertainment Industry Development Corp., which hands out shooting permits, said producers want to work with neighborhoods. But he warned that strict regulations are not the answer.

"The picture business is on wheels," he said.

"We'd be in San Diego or Phoenix in the morning, depending on the weather."

Jessica Garrison writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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