If there’s any pattern in my blog posts, it’s that they are often inspired by my real-life experiences. This one is no different. Recently, I arrived home around 9 p.m. and was greeted by the sound of machine-gun fire that sounded like it was coming from across the street. My husband was out watching a football game (the rival team I poked fun at here) so I had nobody to confirm if there was, in fact, urban warfare taking over the mean streets of Hancock Park, or if it was jut my imagination. The sound continued intermittently every 15–20 minutes for the next hour, with me jumping out of my seat every time (and our cat jumping out of his seat in the window), until my husband got home and confirmed that it was neither my imagination nor an uprising of disgruntled Larchmont Village bakery-goers: a movie was being filmed on the next block over. Sure enough, I seem to have ignored the giant light hovering over the block, which was so bright it could have lit an entire football field for a nighttime game.
The next morning, I drove by to check it out, and saw the block lined with 1940’s-style cars, including a police car and an ambulance. Some Internet sleuthing revealed that the movie being filmed was Gangster Squad, a period piece slated to come out in 2012 with a star-studded cast including Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Sean Penn.
My first thought, of course, was, Cool! Maybe I can go stroll by after work and get a glimpse of the filming!
My second thought, since I am obviously a law dork, was, I wonder whether the neighbors have any rights with regard to the movie being filmed there?
We already know some of the things to consider when deciding whether to rent out your own house for movie filming, but what if it’s taking place practically in your front yard? Living on the next block over, we were subject “only” to the startling gun noises, but the neighbors on that block were also subject to the block being basically closed off, the bright lights, and the movie trailers and old cars parked in every open spot (and, unlike the person whose house was actually being used, getting nothing in return). If you live in Los Angeles, you probably know from personal experience this is not uncommon. And for all of the press and public debate about L.A.’s vaunted film industry being outsourced to cheaper foreign lands (Scenic Vancouver! So exotic.), the number of filming permits in 2010 increased 16 percent over 2009.
The rule is that any filming activity with a commercial purpose, if not filmed on a certified sound stage or studio backlot, must have a film permit from the local governmental jurisdiction or agency. In Los Angeles, film permits sought to be obtained from any local agency are handled by a nonprofit called FilmL.A. Part of FilmL.A.’s role is a service called “Neighborhood Notification.” This means that, according to FilmL.A.’s website, “FilmL.A. employs a team of more than 25 experienced field representatives, many of whom are bilingual, to distribute our familiar door hangers to every residential or commercial building within 500 feet of the filming activity and within 200 feet of production-related parking. When exceptional activities such as gunfire, special effects or aerial work occur, we will notify within an expanded radius.” (Either I need to check my door handle more carefully, or else the “expanded radius” somehow does not cover my house.) FilmL.A.’s goal is to give at least two days’ notice.
FilmL.A. also states that the notifications “are designed to solicit stakeholder input, so we can work to mitigate potential negative impact to a neighborhood before shooting begins.” (Despite this lofty goal, as a practical matter, any modifications will more likely address complaints like “Could you park your trailer somewhere that doesn’t block my driveway?” rather than “Hey, could you keep the heavy-duty gunfire down? I just put my baby down for a nap.” And as anyone who has tried to navigate the streets during a major Hollywood premiere or Obama fundraiser can attest, the city of Los Angeles seemingly doesn’t think twice about the traffic consequences of playing host to America’s entertainment or political elites.)
The day after I was startled by the gun noises, my husband and I strolled over to the next block to see if we could catch a glimpse of the action. When we arrived at the corner, we were greeted by what we thought were two security guards. (One of them turned out to be a police officer, but instead of a police cap, he was wearing a baseball cap. Go figure.) He asked us if we lived on the block, and when we said no, he instructed us to turn around because we weren’t allowed to walk down there. We backed off (although not before muttering “it’s a public street”) and didn’t test the limits, but I wonder what the result would have been if we’d said we were visiting a friend or family member on the block? Maybe next time?
Personally, I’m happy to let filming occur in our neighborhood and boost our local economy, so long as I know that it’s happening. That way I can close my windows, turn up the sound on the TV and be reassured that the machine guns aren’t coming for me (or, more likely, take another shot at scoping out some celebs).
Then again, I think I’d feel a little better if next time, Ryan Gosling came by to personally apologize for the inconvenience. (“Hey Girl — or, if you prefer, Hey Girl — sorry about all the commotion.”)
From my lips to Film L.A.’s ears…