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Malibu attempts to tame excessive filming

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

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 27, 2005


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.

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"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.

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.