Guest blog: The pros and cons of producing in Los Angeles

LA-based independent film director, writer and producer Jane Clark joins us this week as a guest blogger. Last year, Jane premiered her film, Meth Head at DCIFF and it is continuing to make the festival rounds. She just completed her second feature, Crazy Bitches, and is writing a book on making short films. In this week’s post, Jane describes the positive and negative aspects of independent film production in Los Angeles:

As an independent filmmaker working on tight budgets, I have, by necessity, considered many different production options inside and outside of Los Angeles. It is tempting to take the show on the road to cheaper states considering California’s minimum $1 million spending for tax credit eligibility. But for budgets like mine, the costs associated with travel outside the city sometimes outweigh the rebates. Though I chose to keep my productions in LA, making seven shorts and three features, it’s important to consider the pros and cons to know whether the city is the right match for you.

LA location shoot for “Meth Head”

The Pros:

  • There’s a benefit to consistency. With every film I make, my database of production and crew personnel grows. There’s safety in knowing the people you hire. It also helps build relationships with service providers and equipment rental houses for easier deals and increased productivity in the future.
  • Los Angeles provides a large talent pool, both cast and crew, with experience on smaller and bigger budget productions. Actors are one of the biggest pros. The SAG Indie contracts make it affordable to work with SAG actors at any budget level. If the script is good, even name actors are willing to come in for a few days at low-budget scale. They live here after all, so for very little time and effort they will join a project they like or that challenges them.
  • Union crews are also willing to work well below union rates if they are available and the shoot is short. Keep in mind; they are also building their databases, too. Developing a working relationship with an emerging producer or director is part of how they move up the ladder.

The Cons:

  • Locations are the main “con” with LA. We have over 180 sunny days every year so inclement weather or season changes should ideally be shot elsewhere. If you would like to shoot in the city, I suggest checking out the Cinema Scout, where locations are broken down based on type of structure, environment and searchable within the 30 mile studio zone – a requirement if you don’t want to find yourself responsible for housing and/or travel costs for crew and cast.
  • While these tools can be helpful, I usually rely on my contacts to help me find locations. If not, it can be difficult to find a good deal. Locals businesses are hip to big studio location fees and will try to charge you the same price. Keep trying though; there are definitely people willing to cut you a break.
  • The other “con” to bear in mind is permit fees, which in some locations can be extremely costly. When scouting locations, I always consider which permit office I will need to work with on the project. I would highly recommend Film LA, the LA-area film office. Their staff is knowledgeable and they have the most film-friendly permit costs.
  • It may seem counter-intuitive, but there seems to be low tolerance when a film crew comes into LA neighborhoods. In the past, I’ve experienced people continuously blaring their car radios, another who purposely put out their barking dog until we paid them a fee to take the dog back inside, and even had my own neighbors report me to the permit office. (Luckily, I did have my permits. Otherwise, I would have been shut down until I submitted and paid for them).

Personally, the pros of producing in LA outweigh the cons by far. But I also live here. If you are making films with smaller budgets, your hometown or nearby city might be the best place for you to produce and shoot your film. You can always rely on friends, family, working relationships and helpful neighbors to help make your vision a reality.

MH Day 1
Interior shots on the set of “Meth Head”

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