Malibu attempts to tame excessive filming

Ramped up reality TV production schedules have meant more neighborhood traffic and trampled flower beds.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Mike Flannery has never forgotten the night he awoke at 1 a.m. to the sounds of bullhorns and low-flying helicopters. He threw open the drapes to watch a major studio film crew tromping through his flower bed and snapping sprinkler heads.

"It would be one thing if it were a rare occurrence," says the printer who moved here in 1971 to get away from the hustle and bustle of congested life elsewhere. "But between two of my neighbors who were renting their houses out to TV and film crews, it got to be every other day. I just don't think you should have so much commercial activity like that in an area with residential zoning."

For the 12,575 residents who live in this tiny enclave along the picturesque coastline the onslaught of reality TV crews filming everything from "The Bachelor" to "The Osbournes" has become too much. Enough complaints have reached city hall, which issues 500 permits a year, from residents like Mr. Flannery that the city is considering tougher permit rules.

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Malibu city council last week gave initial approval to a provision that would allow filming after 10 p.m. only if the producers received unanimous approval from those living within a 500 ft. radius of the filming. Also under review this week is a proposal that keeps the current cap at 20 days for filming in one location but introduces a new requirement that producers must re-petition and solicit 100 percent neighborhood approval to continue past 16 days.

"These new regulations are going to make it more difficult, no question," says Amy Lemisch, director of the California Film Commission.

Some modifications could ensue, but the direction is clear to those who have testified at the hearings. It's a move that comes even as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been trying to rein in the exodus of production companies leaving the state at a cost of $10 billion a year in a $34 billion industry.

"[The Malibu council] listened to our objections, which is nice, but it seems clear they are taking away flexibility that film companies need and so many will look elsewhere," says Ms. Lemisch, who spoke to the council last week.

Malibu is not the only place in southern California's so-called "studio zone" - a 30-mile radius starting at the corner of Beverly Blvd. and La Cienega in Los Angeles - which has remained a favorite of film studios for decades. Beverly Hills issues about 500 film permits a year and nearby Santa Monica issues about 300. All report a rise in complaints. As networks pressure production companies to keep up with the steady stream of reality TV programs some say it has brought a more discourteous crowd of younger producers more intent on keeping to a ramped up schedule than paying attention to longstanding rules.

Yet some say the complaints are being generated by only a handful of unhappy residents and far outweigh a few isolated incidences of disturbance.

But the current debate is a case study in what some communities have been putting up with for years - and how the increased production shooting schedules have pushed more residents to the brink. Officials say they are caught in the middle between families who feel increasingly encroached upon and local businesses that rely on immediate and ancillary income from moviemaking.

Among neighbors there exists a wide range of reactions to film crews working late into the night and closing off roads. Some residents welcome the opportunity to make up to $10,000 a day by renting their property. But this can create rifts with neighbors who have no choice but to endure the glare of lights and the swarm of traffic surrounding next door.

"It really is a problem when trucks and film crews block Pacific Coast Highway and cause traffic jams that cost drivers a full 30 minutes to an hour," says Mayor Andy Stern. "I've been stuck there myself and ask myself, 'Why am I stopped dead in my tracks for a film crew?' Some of the crews have been throwing bottles and leaving trash and refuse to move their big rigs when a neighbor needs [to reach] their driveway. Who needs it?"

Diana Klein, a Malibu resident who runs a firm called Malibu Locations Etc. Inc. that helps willing studios and residents find each other, says residents who rely on the rental income need it, as well as the whole California filming community, many of whom live in Malibu. Her firm, one of several dozen, generates about $1.4 million drawing up contracts for property owners and that doesn't include significant income to restaurants and hotels.

She says the new idea is unrealistic and will significantly curtail production in the area. "Asking for 100 percent OK from neighbors is impossible, it's overkill, it will never happen," says Ms. Klein, adding that many of the homes are second, third, and fourth residences of those who may live as far away as Italy or India. "I don't think 100 percent of any community agrees on anything," she says, "and that's if you can find them. If they do this, it will take years to recover even if they change their minds."

David Halver, a location specialist who has worked in several areas of the film business for decades, says the extortion tactics of residents making demands on production crews have increased over the years. Those tactics include using leaf blowers, chain saws, and loud music just as shooting begins, in order to coerce producers to write them checks to stop.

"It's unfortunate that the situation has escalated," says Mr. Halver, who has worked on the Larry David Show, "OC," and shot commercials for Jimmy Dean Sausage. "A handful of low-budget productions has come in with kids just out of film school who don't care if they leave a bad impression. They are loud and obnoxious and leave trash and disregard the rules. So neighbors have responded in kind."

Printer Mike Flannery found that was the case when he called the phone number on a brochure left at his door by the company filming on his neighbor's lawn. "I tried to reason with the woman but she was so obnoxious that I gave her two options," says Flannery. "Either move their shoot off my property or write a check for $25,000 to the Malibu Little League. They had so much at stake that they wrote the check for $25,000."

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