Film industry frets over planned state park closures

More than a dozen California state parks that have been a rich source of filming for such classic Hollywood movies as "High Noon," George Lucas' "Star Wars" sequel "Return of the Jedi" and Steven Spielberg's "Back to the Future III" are in danger of going dark.

They are among 70 state parks, historic sites and recreation areas — or 25% of the 278 parks statewide — that Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed closing in response to the state's budget crisis. The planned closings, which are part of the $33 million in park cuts approved by the Legislature this year, are likely to be the subject of intense upcoming budget negotiations in Sacramento. Brown's administration says the cuts, which would take effect July 1, are necessary to balance the state's budget.

The prospect of losing so many state parks is cause for concern among location managers and film promoters, who fear that such drastic cuts could give producers one more reason to take their business out of California. The timing is bad for the state, which has been working to keep more productions from leaving.

California may not have the most generous film tax credit, but what it does have, apart from experienced crews and sunny weather, is an abundance of parks with diverse landscapes that have long served as ready-made locations for producers of films, TV shows and commercials, film industry officials say.

"This is going to be very problematic for location managers," said Veronique Vowell, chairwoman of the government affairs committee for the Location Managers Guild of America. "The parks are hugely important to us. They are relatively low-cost, ready-made back lots that can represent all different places around the country. You've got deserts to alpine forests and beaches."

Vowell said that once parks close, it is not clear whether filmmakers would have access to the locations, how they would secure permits to shoot and how well maintained the sites would be.

Parks remain hugely popular for filming. In 2009, nearly 500 permits were issued for nearly 1,000 days of shooting in state parks for such productions as "Iron Man 2" and "I Love You, Man."

For that reason, the Location Managers Guild last year lobbied in support of an unsuccessful ballot initiative that would have required Californians to pay an extra $18 as part of their annual vehicle registration fee in exchange for eliminating day-pass fees at state parks.

A spokesperson for Gov. Brown's office was unavailable for comment.

The parks slated for closure include the Salton Sea State Recreation Area; Palomar Mountain State Park in San Diego; Fort Tejon State Historic Park in Kern County; Grizzly Creek Redwoods, seen in "Return of the Jedi"; and Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, which hosted the classic movies "High Noon" and "Back to the Future."

The busiest parks for filming in L.A. County, such as Malibu Creek and Leo Carrillo, aren't on the closure list, but the cuts would phase out half a dozen less-used parks in the region that have long histories of filming, including McGrath State Beach in Oxnard; the Santa Susana Pass near Simi Valley, famously depicted in Alfred Hitchcock's classic "North by Northwest"; and Saddleback Butte State Park east of Lancaster, which was featured in "There Will Be Blood," starring Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis.

"These are historic film locations that are in jeopardy and should never be considered for closure," said author Harry Medved, who conducts film history tours, including an upcoming one of Malibu Creek State Park. "The parks are vital to the film industry."

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