Park clo­sures could keep Hollywood from vi­tal vis­tas

Los Angeles Times - - Company Town - Richard Ver­rier richard.ver­

Along with sunny weather and world-class crews, Cal­i­for­nia of­fers some­thing else sought by film­mak­ers: an abun­dance of state parks with di­verse land­scapes, from the red­wood forests in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia to the desert of Anza-Bor­rego and the vast beaches and rocky coves of Point Dume.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the beauty and va­ri­ety of the state’s 278 parks have pro­vided count­less back­drops for movies, TV shows and com­mer­cials for a cen­tury. In 2009 alone, nearly 500 per­mits were is­sued for nearly 1,000 days of film­ing in state parks for var­i­ous pro­duc­tions, in­clud­ing “Iron Man 2” (Point Dume State Beach) and the ro­man­tic com­edy “I Love You, Man” (Leo Car­rillo State Park).

There’s even an an­nual film se­ries, hosted next month by the Cal­i­for­nia State Parks Foun­da­tion, that high­lights how Hollywood has re­lied on state parks as set­tings for such TV shows as the long-run­ning “MASH” and films such as the 1968 clas­sic “Planet of the Apes.”

But there’s grow­ing con­cern in the film com­mu­nity that state parks, which are at risk of clos­ing or fall­ing into dis­re­pair be­cause of the state’s bud­get cri­sis, could get writ­ten out of the film­mak­ing script.

On Nov. 2, state res­i­dents will be vot­ing on a bal­lot ini­tia­tive, Propo­si­tion 21, that would re­quire Cal­i­for­ni­ans to pay an ex­tra $18 as part of their an­nual ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tion fee in ex­change for elim­i­nat­ing day-pass fees at state parks.

That may be a tough sell in the cur­rent eco­nomic cli­mate, but pro­po­nents say Cal­i­for­nia’s state parks need a re­li­able rev­enue stream to keep them open to the pub­lic and for com­mer­cial use.

Some of the biggest sup­port­ers of the ini­tia­tive aren’t just con­ser­va­tion groups — film com­mis­sions as well as lo­ca­tion man­agers view the parks as an es­sen­tial as­set for film­mak­ers.

“The parks are beau­ti­ful, huge and di­verse back lots for us,” said Veronique Vow­ell, chair­man of the govern­ment af­fairs com­mit­tee for the Lo­ca­tion Man­agers Guild of Amer­ica, which has en­dorsed the bal­lot ini­tia­tive. “My con­cern is that if some of the parks were to close, it would be a dis­in­cen­tive to keep film­ing in Cal­i­for­nia.”

In the last decade, pro­duc­tion has been steadily leav­ing the state, thanks to the pro­lif­er­a­tion of tax cred­its and re­bates of­fered else­where, al­though the mi­gra­tion slowed af­ter Cal­i­for­nia adopted its own film tax­credit pro­gram last year.

Vow­ell and other lo­ca­tion man­agers see the parks as an­other sell­ing point that helps keep jobs — and tax rev­enues — in the state.

There is ev­i­dence to back up the claim. State parks ac­counted for 62% of all film pro­duc­tion per­mit­ted by the Cal­i­for­nia Film Com­mis­sion last year. “State parks have been an in­cred­i­ble source of lo­ca­tions over the years,” said Amy Lemisch, di­rec­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia Film Com­mis­sion.

Parks of­fi­cials are cer­tainly happy for the ex­po­sure. “It of­fers us a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity for us to pro­mote our parks,” said Kris Lan­nin, who han­dles film is­sues on be­half of the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Parks and Recre­ation.

Be­yond di­verse land­scapes, parks are ap­peal­ing be­cause they pro­vide in­ex­pen­sive lo­ca­tions, Lemisch said. “If you were go­ing to rent a pri­vate beach, I don’t know what it would cost.”

Parks don’t charge a per­mit fee. Film­mak­ers are re­quired only to pay the salary of a park ranger who mon­i­tors the shoot and for any costs the parks in­cur dur­ing film­ing.

That’s a bar­gain, es­pe­cially for pro­duc­ers of ul­tralow-bud­get movies, such as Nancy Isaak, who re­cently filmed vir­tu­ally all of her movie, a ro­man­tic thriller called “Sym­pho­ria,” at Mal­ibu Creek State Park, one of the most fre­quently used parks for film­ing.

“Shoot­ing in­side a state park is just ideal for us be­cause it fits our bud­get but gives us a mil­lion-dol­lar look,” said Isaak, who had a small part in the film. She was stand­ing un­der a canopy with her crew while film­ing a scene on a hill­top over­look­ing a pine for­est that was cho­sen for the im­age it evoked of a Chi­nese land­scape. In the film, the park is a fa­vorite gath­er­ing place for a Chi­nese Amer­i­can fam­ily.

They also shot scenes at the park’s Cen­tury Lake and in front of a gi­ant fallen oak tree near a ravine that served as a fa­mous back­drop for the bru­tal hu­man roundup de­picted in “Planet of the Apes.” They even used a park­ing lot to film a col­lege cam­pus scene.

“You get vis­tas that you can sub­sti­tute for al­most any­thing,” Isaak said.

Anne Cu­sack

CAM­ERA FRIENDLY: A film crew sets up a scene for a ro­man­tic thriller called “Sym­pho­ria” that was shot al­most en­tirely at Mal­ibu Creek State Park.

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