When the low-budget comedy "Wiener Dog Nationals" shot in Encino's Balboa Park, Los Angeles-based producer Gerald Wolff paid more than $1,000 a day for a city park permit and security guard wages.
By comparison, Salt Lake City officials let Wolff shoot for free in a public park during another production, he said. Free perks are one of the many reasons he leaves L.A. for work.
"Those costs in Los Angeles are prohibitive," said Wolff, who now shoots many productions outside the region.
Lucrative tax subsidies offered by competing states are the primary reason the entertainment industry has left California. But multiple costly fees are another reason productions flee, workers say.
With Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti vowing to fight runaway production, there is renewed pressure to look at permit fees or explore rebate models used by other California cities. San Francisco, for instance, offers lucrative incentives to productions.
Local costs are the biggest concern cited by producers, who can pay a hodgepodge of fees when shooting in Los Angeles County or the city of L.A. A film shoot in December at a section of the county-owned Grand Park, for example, cost about $5,760 a day, while shooting on a L.A. County sidewalk can cost $470 in permitting fees. By contrast, in Los Angeles, parks charge about $450 a day, while the city waives fees at buildings like Los Angeles City Hall.
With nearly all major film work now taking place outside of California, lower-budget productions are almost the only ones left paying location costs, said Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A., a nonprofit organization overseeing regional permitting. He believes L.A.'s fees are competitive, but characterized L.A. County's costs as higher than average.
"A day's shooting, and all the fees add up," Audley said.
An L.A. County commission in 2012 recommended the Board of Supervisors temporarily waive some fees to encourage more filming. The commission also suggested using off-duty or retired public safety employees on film sets to save costs. Early last year, county CEO William Fujioka issued a report recommending the fees be maintained, and the panel's recommendations never moved to the full board, county documents show.
Roxane Marquez, press deputy for County Supervisor Gloria Molina, defended Grand Park's prices as appropriate. Farmers markets, concerts and yoga classes also use the park, which is downtown's only major green space.
"It's a special unique spot and it's prime real estate with multiple uses," Marquez said.
Other county supervisors point to their efforts to retain the entertainment industry. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich expedited the permitting process last year for Disney/ABC's Golden Oak Ranch, which will bring new studio space, soundstages,and other buildings to Santa Clarita.
"It's a huge employer," Edel Vizcarra, Antonovich's planning deputy, said of Disney. "We're talking thousands of jobs. Not just permanent jobs, but construction jobs."
Besides location fees, local production crews incur other costs, such as Los Angeles Police Department fees. Garcetti has said he wants to look at reducing such security costs.
Already, San Diego offers reduced fees for police services. The city also has partnered in the past with local hotels to offer special rates for production crews staying there.
Similar hotel discounts are available in San Francisco, a city that's taken aggressive steps to curb runaway production. In 2006, officials launched "Scene in San Francisco," an extensive rebate program for productions that shoot heavily in that city.
For example, after the 2012 HBO film "Hemingway and Gelhorn" shot in San Francisco, the production company earned a check for $550,000 from the city. Director Woody Allen's 2013 movie "Blue Jasmine" also took advantage of the San Francisco rebate program, earning more than $100,000.
Susannah Greason Robbins, executive director of the San Francisco Film Commission, said no studies have been done on the program's economic benefits "To me, when I go to a set and I see 67 local San Franciscans working, I think it's paying off," she said.
While Los Angeles doesn't offer such a program, the city has long granted tax breaks to some entertainment companies. Additionally, Garcetti signed a law in October that waives fees for producers who shoot television pilots in L.A. They currently are ineligible for the state's film credit.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, a Hollywood councilman who remembers watching the drama "Hart to Hart" film around the city in the 1980s, said the city needs to explore more financial incentives for the industry. In the short term, he wants to look at reducing some local filming fees.
"We need to provide a carrot," O'Farrell said, "and clear the confusion." ___