By Jack Egan
As Steve MacDonald takes over as the new president of the Entertainment Industry Development Council (EIDC)—the organization whose mission is to facilitate filming in the Los Angeles area—one issue topping his agenda is mediating between producers who want to use L.A. locations and some assertive neighborhood councils that are resisting shoots.
“It’s not so much that the councils are trying to regulate filming in their neighborhoods,” said MacDonald in an interview with Below the Line. “They’re interested in weighing in and getting involved in some of the film issues, particularly in those areas of the city that get used a great deal.”
He cited complaints in “areas that are some of the busiest and most popular,” including downtown, Windsor Square, Hancock Park, parts of the West Valley and areas outside the city in northern L.A. county. “People feel some of the code-of-conduct rules that are in place are not always followed. There are concerns about parking spots taken up by production trucks, and issues about proper and timely notification. None of these are secret, but they are things that certain neighborhoods feel can be done better.
“Certainly the majority of people, even in the heavily filmed areas, recognize the importance of movie and television production and the number of jobs that are created and the amount of revenue that comes into our region” MacDonald noted. “But filming in the neighborhood definitely impacts some people. What we need to do is work with these communities and come up with reasonable accommodations and reasonable rules of conduct that might be able to make it better for these folks.”
MacDonald becomes the first permanent president of the EIDC in 14 months. He succeeds Lindsley Parsons Jr., a retired production executive who was the stopgap chief after Cody Cluff, the previous EIDC president, resigned amid allegations he embezzled from the organization—including visits to strip clubs and membership in a cigar club among his questionable expenditures.
(A pretrial hearing in the case has been set for the end of April, with Cluff charged with two counts of embezzlement and two of forgery. In defense, his lawyers claim these expenditures were a legitimate part of his job of trying to get producers to shoot in L.A. They also contend that because the EIDC was a private, not a public, organization, these acts weren’t illegal.)
“Anytime you have a controversy like this, the organization is going to get extra scrutiny,” MacDonald concedes. “There are always going to be people out there who remember this. But over the past year Lindley Parsons brought a lot of stability and credibility to the organization, so we’ve gotten over the hump. We now need to focus and move forward and see what we can do to help the industry and mitigate some of the quality-of-life issues in the neighborhoods.”
MacDonald, 41, has no Hollywood production background, but he has broad experience in the L.A. city government on issues affecting the local economy. Under former mayor Richard Riordan, MacDonald founded and ran the Los Angeles Business Team, whose goal was to retain, expand and attract businesses and jobs throughout the city. In 2003, present mayor Jim Hahn appointed him as the first Neighborhood Service Manager, with the sensitive task of running the City Hall of the South Valley, part of a broader area that had tried to secede from Los Angeles the previous year.
MacDonald, chosen out of some 170 candidates in an elaborate job search, was unanimously elected by the 33-member EIDC board, recently slimmed in size to function better. “Steve has the experience needed to keep the industry filming on-location while making sure our communities remain film-friendly,” declared board member Jerry Ketcham, Disney’s senior VP for motion picture production.
The EIDC was formed nine years ago when the L.A. city and county film offices were combined in order to make permitting for shoots easier. Keeping that day-to-day function operating smoothly is a big priority. “It’s not the sexy part of the EIDC, but getting these permits out as efficiently and effectively as possible working that through the city and the county and other jurisdictions is really the core business,” he notes.
“I think the EIDC in its history has done a very good job in issuing permits,” says MacDonald. “Having a one-stop shop has made it as seamless as possible. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement.”
But the big-picture part of his job is helping maintain the vitality of the local entertainment economy. Because it’s so omnipresent, L.A. residents sometimes get complacent about the importance of the film industry to the local economy, he says. “It’s a huge industry, second only behind tourism in the number of people employed. There are 200,000 direct jobs, and over $30 billion in revenue generated locally each year.
”We need to treat this industry like most other areas in the country would treat their number-two employer,” he says. “Let’s recognize all the jobs that this industry creates, both directly and indirectly, through the caterers and florists and others who provide services, and the extent to which those paychecks allow people to put food on their tables. And then let’s look at the legitimate issues and complaints that neighborhoods are having and how can we best mitigate that. Filming in the neighborhood definitely impacts people. We need to work with these communities and come up with reasonable accommodations and rules of conduct that might be able to make it better.”
By Jack Egan