After a bank heist goes awry, police chase the robbers through the streets of L.A. until a helicopter swoops down, picks up the crooks' fleeing bus and carries it off through the canyons of downtown skyscrapers.
It was only a scene from 2001's "Swordfish," but the ordeal was real enough for Mike Bobenko.
"I still get chills thinking about it," said Bobenko, senior vice president of operations for the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. who helped Warner Bros. through the permit process for the film. "That was probably the most complicated shoot I've worked on."
But challenges of one sort of another tend to pop up for most every location shoot, including a number of recent releases featuring venues such as the Hollywood & Highland shopping complex and Walt Disney Concert Hall.
There's been "The Italian Job," "Hollywood Homicide," "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" and "SWAT," all filmed within months of each other. A second wave hitting the screens more recently includes "The Day After Tomorrow," "Collateral" and "Cellular."
"It's been so crazy," said Donna Washington, EIDC's vice president of operations. "We would get done with one project and we would have three more waiting. I kept thinking, 'Aren't you guys supposed to be creative? How come you keep filming the same things?'"
In a 16-year career, first with the county and then with the EIDC, Bobenko has navigated tough shots through a maze of public agencies, businesses and residents. The approval process can take months for an elaborate scene that may last mere minutes onscreen.
There was 1994's "Speed" when producers needed a runaway train to burst through Hollywood Boulevard from the subway tunnels that were being constructed underneath the street. And in 1998, the director of "Godzilla" needed to drop 7,000-pound steel plates on cars from a crane on the streets of downtown, to simulate the crushing footprints of the monster's rampage.
Each of those shots required drawn-out coordinating sessions between the city and county of Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the Department of Water & Power, among others.
Often, a director's initial ambitions for stunts and chase scenes are tamed by budget restrictions, stunt coordinators and script rewrites well before it comes time to file permits.
But that didn't happen with "Swordfish," a big-budget movie that starred John Travolta playing an evil mastermind. The producers never wavered on the scale or the cost of the elaborate chase scene.
The shot required an immense amount of planning. A legion of police was needed to close streets, the airspace around downtown had to be cleared with the Federal Aviation Administration, and producers had to put up a $10 million insurance policy with the city double the minimum for typical aviation scenes.
When the shot finally took place early on a Sunday morning, EIDC staffers went out to watch. "I was stunned," said Jodi Strong, the office's director of operations. "I couldn't believe I was watching a bus fly through downtown."
The cost for shooting rights: $450 to file for the film permit, and another $600 or so for street closures. Of course, that didn't include off-duty police officers and maintenance workers or the production costs.
While many L.A. residents recognize the economic importance of the film industry and the visibility it brings to the city, there has been growing resistance to neighborhood location shots in recent years.
About four times a year, the EIDC is faced with big-budget films like "Swordfish," that involve invasive shoots. The trick is striking a compromise between the director's vision and what local agencies, business and residents will allow. "Like everything else in life, it all comes down to negotiating," Bobenko said. "We have to get to a point where we think what they are agreeing to do with the shots is within reason."
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