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Navigating Filmmaking in Los Angeles

May 21, 2014 | By
Panelists at  Navigating Filmmaking in Los Angeles included (seated from left) Paul Audley, Jeff Grace, Miranda Bailey and Tjardus Geridanus.

(Back row) LAPPG Co-Founders Wendy and Woody Woodhall. (Front row, from left) Panelists at Navigating Filmmaking in Los Angeles included Paul Audley, Larry Laboe, Jeff Grace, Miranda Bailey and Tjardus Geridanus.

At the Navigating Filmmaking in Los Angeles event at Busby’s East on the Miracle Mile, hosts FilmL.A., NewFilmmakers Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Post Production Group presented Blumhouse Productions with an award of recognition for the company’s work in keeping production in Los Angeles. Known for some of the highest grossing horror films such as Insidious: Chapter 2, Lords of Salem and Paranormal Activity 2, Blumhouse has produced 95% of its more than 30 films in the Los Angeles region since the company’s founding by Jason Blum in 2000.

In accepting the honor, head of physical production Jeanette Brill said, “It is very important for us to keep productions here in Los Angeles. It is one of our mantras. We’ve got four productions going on right now here in Los Angeles. We’ve also started a television division. Once we get our stripes in that, we intend on having television here in Los Angeles… We love sleeping in our beds. We love supporting our friends. To us the teams that we work with are our family.”

The state of the California film industry, and runaway production in particular, was the subject of the discussion that followed the award presentation. The panel included independent filmmakers from various backgrounds who have successfully completed and distributed films shot in Los Angeles, moderated by Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A., Los Angeles’ regional film office.

FilmL.A., works to attract and retain film production in the Greater Los Angeles area. The organization recently reported that last year, California ranked fourth behind Louisiana, Canada and the United Kingdom in total live-action feature projects, total related film jobs and total related production spending. FilmL.A. is actively involved in the campaign to expand California tax incentives to make the state competitive and reverse the tide of runaway production.

Producer Larry Laboe presenting an award to  Jeanette Brill of Blumhouse Productions.

Producer Larry Laboe, presenting an award to Jeanette Brill of Blumhouse Productions.

Audley noted that filmworksca.com is the statewide campaign to increase the tax credit and expand who can apply for it, but he encouraged attendees to visit the city’s site, filmworksla.com, and join the 14,000-plus members of the film community that have signed the petition or left testimonials about working, or not being able to work, in Los Angeles. “It’s very effective when we go to Sacramento and try to expand this program,” said Audley.

Miranda Bailey, producer, actress, director and co-founder of indie film company Ambush Entertainment, dabbles in all aspects of filmmaking from performance to distribution and has produced or executive produced over 20 films, including Oscar-nominated The Squid and the Whale. She is also co-founder of Film Arcade, a company that theatrically distributes indie films. Bailey has shot a couple of films in California, as well as in Louisiana and New York, among others. A big plus about shooting in Los Angeles is the availability of local talent. She admits that there are great film crews in places like Michigan and Georgia, but it is difficult for an independent to compete with bigger movies. “You really have to figure out schedule and wait to go when you’re not competing with Spiderman. In L.A., I feel like pretty much anywhere you shoot a dart, you can find somebody who’s great,” said Bailey.

Bailey thinks that above-the-line costs, which constitute a big chunk of budgets, should be eligible for the rebate in California like they are in Louisiana. “I do feel Los Angeles has to be more competitive with their tax rebate. The reason I have shot in these other places is for that reason. I wish I didn’t have to. That being said, the tax rebate in Los Angeles comes back a lot quicker than New York. It took me three years to get a tax rebate in New York and three months to get a tax rebate here.” Audley added that another benefit for independent productions under $10 million with little liability is the ability to sell their tax credits for 85 cents on the dollar.

Writer, director, editor and cinematographer, Tjardus Geridanus, has worked as an assistant director and locations manager for numerous movies and television series and shot, directed and edited specials and DVD content for clients such as HBO and Michael Mann. He is currently in post on A New York Heartbeat, his first narrative film.

A lot of his work has been done in Vancouver, New York and Pittsburgh, but Geridanus is drawn to Los Angeles because of the huge talent pool. “You can only get quality by the people you bring on,” commented Geridanus. “We mostly cast from here. We also bring a lot of people from here like the DP and focus puller.”

Audley added that a lot of pick-up shots and reshoots are being done in Los Angeles. “We just had some reshoots for Fast and Furious and some other films. For two weekends in a row we put helicopters downtown overnight, which nobody likes. The difficult part is that these are mega-budget films that couldn’t get away with that where they went, so they came back to L.A. to do the stuff that other cities wouldn’t let them do. We took all the pain, but did not get the long-term benefits of those films.”

Audley pointed out that there are misconceptions about what filmmakers will be allowed to shoot in Los Angeles. After hearing that director Chris Nolan didn’t think he could film Inception locally, the film office contacted him to find out what sequences concerned him. “It was the scene where it is pouring rain and the car gets hit by a train,” shared Audley. “That’s not CGI. That’s downtown L.A. He just didn’t believe we could help make that happen for him. We did.” However, in the current competitive market, Bailey has found crews in other regions open to any of the filming challenges she has had on her films, emphasizing the need for California to become more competitive with their incentives.

Producer, writer, director, actor and comedian Jeff Grace, started his career on the stages of Second City and Improv Olympic in Chicago, co-founded the comedy group The Vacationeers, wrote and produced viral videos for Google, and has had roles on numerous television shows and feature films. Grace is currently working on a new film that is set on the east coast, which will probably be filmed in Massachusetts, partially due to the rebate offered there, but also because certain stories lend themselves to particular locations. “If you want to shoot a film in New York City and you don’t have money to be on the Universal lot, you’ve got to shoot in New York City. There are going to be some times when shooting out of state makes sense,” shared Grace.

In other cases, Los Angeles is the only place to shoot. On short notice, Grace was called to direct a commercial. The ad agency wanted to shoot in Michigan, with SAG actors that were both funny improvisers and Native Americans. “I talked them into shooting this commercial in L.A. because you’re never going to find Native American funny people… a huge cast, period wardrobe… there’s no way you could do it in any other market other than L.A. because there is such an abundance of different resources here. I was trying to find my DP the night before and I didn’t even sweat it. You can throw a rock in any direction and find 20 talented DPs. You just have to find one that’s not working tomorrow. I don’t think you can do that in any other market, not even New York.”

PGA member Larry Laboe has contributed to marketing campaigns of prestigious advertising firms, produced numerous short and feature film productions as well as television and new media projects, including NBC’s series CTRL, through international digital production house SXM. He works extensively with NewFilmmakers L.A. and the group’s monthly film festival. He praised FilmL.A., emphasizing that the film office cut through city bureaucracy and made it possible to film in Los Angeles without alienating local communities. He first met Audley three years ago when a neighbor repeatedly called the police to complain about filming taking place in the neighborhood. Although the production had permits, eventually there were so many complaints that Audley personally came out to the location to resolve the conflict. “That makes it easier to film here,” Laboe stated. He also stressed the importance of getting film permits. “From having filmed in Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio and Puerto Rico, it is the most streamlined and also what I found the most affordable.”

Laboe reiterated what the other panelists said about talent and a deep crew base. “The best word that came out of anyone’s mouth is resources. The resources that you can find in L.A. you cannot find anyplace else. In Puerto Rico, I worked with a really great crew, but God forbid there was a day when one of the crew got a better job. They were my best friends up until they got that job on Crossbones. ‘Sorry Larry, I gotta go. You’ve got to find somebody else to do that helicopter shot.’” Despite his web series being union, the series was competing with network television productions that were there for three to six months.

As a producer, Laboe is understandably concerned with costs, which again come down to resources. He has never experienced getting anything for the price he is able to get in Los Angeles. “You have a lot of competitors, which makes it an affordable place to get equipment, to get crew, to get talent that you can’t get anywhere else,” Laboe continued. In many instances he got a better deal with talent because they were able to stay in Los Angeles where they had other opportunities.

On the subject of locations and costs, Audley brought up the site LocoScout, that represents 21 government agency jurisdictions in the region. All of these government facilities are on the site and many are free to film in. There are also a lot of free parking lots that can be a big boon to the bottom line. “Part of what we’ve been working on is recognizing that we’re competing without a competitive tax credit,” explained Audley.

In talking about his first ultra-low budget feature film, The Scenesters, Grace related his initial fear of bureaucracy, which was allayed by the effectiveness of FilmL.A. “I think you guys are a model case study of a regulatory authority. There are other unions out there and other agencies that you have to interact with where it is the opposite experience.” Although as an actor he appreciates the Screen Actors Guild for negotiating his rates, Grace expressed his disappointment as a producer at the amount of red tape the guild put him through on a $200,000 ultra-low budget feature. “I don’t think actors need to be protected from $200,000 indie features other than not working more than 12 hours a day and having your basic food. I wish that SAG learns a lesson from FilmL.A. and some of the other unions to stream-line that process because they’re really hurting actors ultimately.”

Laboe countered the criticism saying that SAG and the other unions have been amazing on many of his projects as long as a producer is upfront and willing to lay everything out on the table. “I’ve had many productions where they say don’t worry about this and that, just do pension and health.”

Both Bailey and Geridanus have chosen to do their postproduction in Los Angeles. “Always post here,” said Bailey. “On all of the films shot in Louisiana, even in New York, we’ve done post here. This could be because I live here and the filmmakers often live here. Post has been miraculous in Los Angeles. It is very easy. I don’t have any problems with it.”

Dutch-born Geridanus believes Hollywood is still the place to be, especially for a director. Because post takes so much longer than the shoot, he does his post in California not only because it is where he lives, but because of the good people.

Bailey sees a problem with the future of the industry in California. When she came to Los Angeles 17 years ago, it was the place to come if you wanted to be in the movie business. “That is not the case anymore. People are graduating from high school and college, deciding to be in the movie business, but they’re not moving here. I think that’s where our real problem lies.”

Audley added, “Just as an example of that, I look out my window every day at the Delta airlines sign that says, ‘Flying you to where you shoot your movies.’ Makes me a little angry. And we’re in downtown Hollywood.”

The continuing concern to members of the panel and audience alike was that many key venders such as specialty lumber, props and lighting, have either closed their doors or divided their inventory and staff to service other regions of the country. Because runaway production has helped the infrastructure and crew base to be built up in other areas around the country, something must be done now if Hollywood is to keep its standing as “Entertainment Capitol of the World” from eroding further.

The feeling of all involved is that this is a state problem and the state’s leaders must recognize the need to become competitive. Not only should the new incentives expand, they should take the cap off of the production budgets, and allow indie films with budgets under a million, which constitute the majority of work being done in Los Angeles, to qualify for incentives.

Audley concluded, “It really is a matter of driving the discussion in Sacramento. The assembly is going to pass this nearly unanimously, but the senate is a little more trouble. By September, we will know whether California is going to compete or not. My testimony there has been very clear. If they fail to truly get in the game big time now, L.A. becomes second or third tier in production.”

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