Towns Raise Fees to Keep Film Crews Away


While other Ventura County cities are trying to attract movie makers, some officials in Santa Paula and Fillmore want to keep the cameras out.

Santa Paula has been increasingly popular for movies, TV shows and commercials, because its quaint downtown makes a fine Main Street U.S.A. and many of the local folks aren't happy about it.

"Movie companies come in and think they're such a neat and glamorous thing that you're going to do everything for them," said Steve Rogers, assistant to the city administrator in Santa Paula. "I think the movie companies have taken advantage of the city and the citizens of Santa Paula."

To restrict the shooting and compensate merchants for lost business, the city is considering imposing fees of $250 for a filming application, $500 for a permit for the first day and $350 a day after that. An ordinance introduced two weeks ago is under review by city attorney.

Last fall, Fillmore imposed a $500 permit fee for downtown filming.

Both cities also charge for the use of city facilities and police and firefighters.

Other Ventura County cities not only tolerate filmmakers, but are actively seeking Hollywood's attention.

Oxnard has promoted itself to movie makers. Despite minor problems in Ventura, the city has welcomed film crews, officials said.

In January, Simi Valley adopted an ordinance regulating film making, but officials said it was not designed to deter movie making and it hasn't.

Fillmore's action followed years of putting up with film crews that caused disturbances and violated fire regulations, said Fillmore Councilman Roger Campbell, who is also an assistant chief of the volunteer fire department.

Years ago, film crews staged stunts and pyrotechnics on Fillmore's streets without the presence of firefighters, endangering lives and property, Campbell said.

Fillmore and Santa Paula's policies will drive away business with fees that are higher than those in most of Southern California, said Lisa Rawlins, executive director for the California Film Commission. Most cities charge an average of $232 for applications to film and daily fees of $15 to $150, she said.

"There is a corps of individuals who feel the film industry should pay through the teeth," Rawlins said.

Increasing production costs are hurting California's competitiveness in the movie industry, Rawlins said. Last year the state lost more than $3 billion to other states and countries with friendlier business policies towards Hollywood, she said.

Residents of Santa Paula, a tree-shaded town of 24,000 about 75 miles north of Los Angeles studios, appear to have no special love for the movie industry. Some say they resent big-city filmmakers who act pushy.

"Most people live in Santa Paula because it's a beautiful, quiet kind of atmosphere here in town," retired Superior Court Judge Ed Beach said. "I like entertainment. But if I wanted to live in a place where it's a primary industry, I would have moved to Hollywood."

The Santa Paula City Council stopped filming for most of 1989 after Beach and others complained. Although small movie and television companies have continued to film there, the last time a major movie company set foot in Santa Paula was in December, 1988, when Touchstone Films used the downtown district at the height of the Christmas season to shoot part of "Three Fugitives."

Camera crews blocked store entrances and brushed people off the sidewalk to set up shots, Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce President Bob Russell said.

As a result, in addition to imposing fees, Santa Paula would ban filming from Thanksgiving to January and require that film companies negotiate compensation agreements with any merchants whose business they would directly affect.

The offer of compensation did little to mollify some merchants whose businesses have suffered.

"I can't say I've gained business because of them, but I've lost business because of them," said Alta McKeehan, owner of Treasure Chest, an antique store on Main Street.

In the attempt to compensate for lost business, some merchants are charging exorbitant fees from filmmakers, the film commission's Rawlins said.

Last year in Fillmore the Paul Hogan movie "Almost an Angel" was the first production to come under the city's new film ordinance.

Because of Fillmore's new rules, the movie company, Ironbark Productions, paid up to $15,000 a day to compensate for lost business.

"They were not happy about it, but by the same token they paid it," Rawlins said.

Rawlins said municipalities that impose such regulations may eventually be bypassed. City leaders say that's fine with Fillmore.

"The film industry needs to understand that this is a community that has its lives to live," Councilman Campbell said. "We have small-town values. We have small-town problems."

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