LAUSD Auditioning to Land Bigger Role in Hollywood

By DARRELL SATZMAN
Staff Reporter

L.A.'s schools want to get more into show business and with it, the money from shooting movies and TV shows on its campuses.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has hired the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. to manage and market its campus-filming program.

School Board President Caprice Young, who spearheaded the deal with the EIDC, said she hopes the move would lead to twice as many shooting days on school campuses in 2002 than in 2001, when there were 360 shooting days.

"We got a lot of calls from location managers but it always goes back to the same 10 or 12 sites," Young said. "I think we have a lot of properties that don't get used because people don't know about them."

Roughly $500,000 in film-shoot fees were generated 2001, a drop in the district's nearly $6 billion general fund budget. Fees are based on a charge of $1,700 for a 14-hour film shoot and $850 for a four-hour shoot, with 75 percent of the money staying at the individual school site and the rest going to administrative costs and a district-wide fund.

Under terms of the one-year deal, the EIDC will get a 15 percent cut of filming fees, but Young and others said the anticipated increase in campus production will more than makeup the difference.

Since signing its deal with the district last month, the EIDC has begun compiling a site library with the goal of cataloguing all 800-plus schools in the district for easy reference by location managers.

"We're trying to come in and understand the big picture before we make any major changes," said Susan Yackley, the EIDC's director of business development for the facilities and services division. "I think a lot of production companies would like to have more access but they've been frustrated with their experiences at school sites."

Limited market

Young said an important secondary motivation in hiring the EIDC was to help smooth out the district's relationship with Hollywood.

Established in 1995, the EIDC coordinates and issues film permits for the city and county of Los Angeles and several other local jurisdictions and also promotes filming in the area.

Until the beginning of this month, filming on LAUSD campuses was loosely overseen by the district's real estate branch, with individual schools bearing the responsibility for coordinating with production companies and location managers. The result was an uneven system fraught with miscommunication and shifting guidelines that was frustrating for both producers and school officials.

"We had a lot of complaints (from producers) that the school sites weren't acting professionally," Young said. "The EIDC brings a tremendous amount of experience that we don't have and they will cut down on the bureaucracy."

Red tape has been a significant disincentive to filming on LAUSD property, said Ilt Jones, location manager for Fox Television's "The X-Files."

"The permitting process was not far short of disastrous. I like the idea of one-stop shopping for permits," Jones said. "There has been a clash between the film community and the schools, who are not accustomed to dealing with the whims of production companies, which can be quite capricious at times."

Despite those headaches and the fact that scheduling is difficult because most schools only allow shooting during off hours, a handful of LAUSD campuses have been popular filming sites over the years. They include John Marshall and Hamilton high schools as well as John Burroughs Middle School. All three have a classic brick fa & #231;ade and an anywhere-in-America look that appeals to producers.

The recently-acquired former Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard is the most popular LAUSD-owned filming location, but that site, where the districts wants to build a new high school, is managed separately by a consultant.

Television series filmed at LAUSD schools in the past year include "Boston Public" (Marshall), "6 Feet Under" (Grant High School) and "Once and Again" (Hamilton). Numerous television commercials and scenes from feature films are also shot regularly on LAUSD campuses.

Lester Davidson, assistant principal at Burroughs, said he gets three or four calls a week from location managers interested in filming at the Hancock Park school, which was a location for "Never Been Kissed," "What Dreams May Come," "Pleasantville" and scores of other films and television shows.

The $20,000 to $30,000 an individual school can from hosting productions can make a big difference, Davidson said. Burroughs has used its film money for everything from computer equipment to replacing worn classroom furniture.

"I think (hiring the EIDC) is a great idea," he said, adding that the fact that he was notified about the switch from the EIDC and not the district was characteristic of the communication problems that have plagued the district's filming program.

Until Burroughs qualified for federal funding for its low-income students a few years ago "the school probably survived out of filming money," he said. "In light of all the budget cuts being discussed it might become that important again."

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