Friday, August 31, 2007

interacting with filmLA

Last week, the DLANC ad-hoc filming issues committee turned in our response to the City's RFI, which solicits input from the public regarding the issuance of a contract for film permitting services. Did you fill yours out? If not, the City extended the deadline for responses to today, August 31, 2007. Our response was very strong, full of supporting documentation that was both specific and damning of the way film permits are processed, facilitated, and enforced. Although I felt good about turning in that document, I was not looking forward to this past Monday night's meeting at Red Dot.

We were there to finalize our recommendations for Special Conditions for downtown location filming. From there it would go to DLANC's executive Board for approval, and then for public comment. I didn't foresee the meeting to be uneventful, considering the filming clusterfuck that happened downtown over the weekend, but Curbed LA's link to Bert's post about the meeting made me worry that it might turn into a battleground.

Turns out, I didn't need to worry. No one came to disrupt the meeting, no last-minute protest or late-to-the-table out-of-the-blue requests were made. Before we dove in, Ginny told us about her annoying phone conversation earlier that day with Geoff Smith of FilmLA re the 20+ film permits that were issued over the weekend, and how ugly it got. She told Geoff that it was funny that as soon as we turn in our response to the City's RFI, 20+ film permits were issued for downtown in one weekend, the same weekend as the immigration march on Broadway. No, it didn't look retaliatory at all. He responded by calling her "sweetie", as in 'Listen sweetie, you can't talk to me that way'. I'm not saying that's what he said, but that was the tone and certainly the message that Ginny got - loud and clear. Nice that he insults a representative of the Neighborhood Council like that, someone elected by the area residents to represent their concerns.

We got down to business and line by line, went through the Special Conditions. The whole time, we wondered, "Where is Dennis?" Just then, Dennis walked in talking on his cell phone to Amy, a film coordinator manning the FilmLA hotline. Turns out that in addition to this past weekend's fiasco (where 20+ film permits were issued in one weekend, closing off the 2nd Street Tunnel and other major thoroughfares in and out of downtown), there was a music video setting up for a night shoot on Spring & 7th with loud music being played back until midnight, right in front of his building. No one on the block received hard copy or email notification, despite being subscribed to receive all notifications for downtown film shoots. Ginny quickly pulled up the filming notifications map - the production wasn't on the map, no one received notification. The only thing FilmLA's coordinator had to say was "I don't know why that happened." Amy didn't have any answers, didn't know if anyone was still in the office who could do anything. We asked her, "What, if anything, are you authorized to do?" Seriously, they don't have a protocol to follow when these situations occur? Shit, I'm disorganized, don't have a plan, and can lie through my teeth if I get paid for it too, can I get a contract with the City?

I didn't think it was humanly possible, but Amy's voice rose another octave and she got even more shrill as she scrambled. I thought my ears were going to start bleeding, so I was relieved to hear her say she would find another coordinator and/or whoever permitted that shoot and promised to call us back in ten minutes. Ten minutes later there was still no return call, but Dennis left the meeting to call her back. We managed to go through the Special Conditions and, when Dennis returned, sign off on them. There was still no acceptable resolution to the nightmare shoot facing Dennis and his neighbors on Spring, just an assurance that one of FilmLA's VPs, Donna Washington, was working to get them out of the parking lot by 10pm because the production hadn't received anyone's sign-off.

We left Red Dot and walked south on Spring Street. Ginny and I said our goodbyes and turned left onto 6th street, Dennis and Ben continued down Spring. As Ginny and I approach the corner of 6th and Main, I see a man walking towards us. His brow is furrowed, he's pretty much scowling. Then I recognized him, it was Geoff Smith. I wasn't sure if it was him, so I turned to Ginny for confirmation when she greeted him with a loud and friendly, "Hi Geoff!" He threw us a dirty look and continued down 6th, ignoring us. Ginny's and my jaw went slack and agape, and when we recovered from the shock of his reaction, we started dialing Ben's cell phone furiously. No answer.

We continued to walk down 6th, but then the realization hit us both that Geoff was headed down Spring, steps behind Ben and Dennis. Ginny and I turned to each other and said, "We can't miss this," and skipped down 6th and onto Spring Street, hoping to flag down Ben and Dennis.

From the end of the block, we saw Geoff stop at the lot next door to 626 Reserve and Ben directly across the street at LA Cafe. We didn't see Dennis talking to Geoff. We crossed the street to get Ben. He was at the door, looking across the street when he noticed Geoff and yelled, "Hey, it's Geoff Smith!" Breathlessly (we'd been running), we told Ben of our "encounter" down the street. We crossed the street to where Dennis was already talking to Geoff.

Dennis explained to Geoff everything that was wrong with the situation (there was plenty) and asked Geoff what he was going to do about it. Geoff hemmed and hawed, claiming that he couldn't do anything. Are you as skeptical as I was? More? Remember what Amy said on the hotline about getting the production out of there by 10pm? Geoff said they'd be out of there by midnight. I guess he couldn't find his backbone.

When Dennis explained to Geoff the obvious, that he didn't want to be down on the street in his bathrobe, at midnight, asking the ineffectual film monitor when they're going to finish blasting the playback even though they should've been out by now, Geoff threw out that phony bullshit 'I feel your pain' line, saying "I hear you Dennis, I don't get paid to be out here at night either."

I interjected, "Oh yes you do."

Geoff replied, "No I don't."

"It's part of your job, isn't it? You're getting paid to be here, none of us are."

Ben asked, "You're salaried, aren't you?"

By then Geoff just chose to ignore me and my interjections. But here's a good question - why lie about that? Just so we can think that he's on our side and feels our pain but gosh golly, he's not in any position to do anything? No one is buying it and the fact that he even tried it shows how little regard he has for this community and its elected representatives.

At one point when I was backing up Dennis' argument and poking holes in Geoff's position, he said testily to me, "I'm not talking to you, I'm talking to Dennis."

Well, we're all here for the same reason, but I replied, "Well then when Dennis is done with you I have words for you." Then he turned to address only Dennis, leaving Ben, me, and Ginny shaking our heads. Dennis told Geoff that he needs to address all of us, which he then did by talking in circles again, a whole series of denials, excuses and shifting of blame. Ben quoted Municipal Code to Geoff, explaining what he was in violation of (don't ask me what it was, but I was very impressed that Ben was so knowledgable and prepared), and how they were setting themselves up for a huge lawsuit. Geoff then said, "Well Ben, I guess if that's what you have to do..."

Ben brought up the fact that Geoff had called Ginny "sweetie" earlier during their phone conversation. Geoff denied it, saying that isn't a word that he uses. Ginny's jaw dropped, my head shook - what an asshole. Still he kept talking, saying "I'm sorry if that's what you heard..." That wasn't an apology, that was another lie and another fucking insult.

Ginny had to leave, it was getting late and we weren't getting anywhere. I was going to stay for as long as Dennis was, so I called home and asked Jim to come down with Wonton so I wouldn't have to walk home alone. After a few more rounds it was obvious that Geoff wasn't going to shut down the shoot or make them leave at 10pm. Dennis went home to deal with the situation from there, so Ben and I stood in front of 626 Reserve, talking to the proprietors and listening to their film crew horror stories while Geoff stood 25 feet away, calling for back-up. A car pulled up carrying Donna Washington, but Jim and Wonton turned the corner and I needed to go.

Later the next day, I get an email from Dennis when I asked him what happened after we left:

"OH! You will love this! Donna called with Geoff on the phone at about 9:00 I think - and the call kept dropping, but they finally were able to tell me that the production was moved into the alley (it was not - it stayed in the same place we saw and the entire south wall of the Latino Legal building was lit up), and that they would be done at midnight rather than 10. I went to bed at about 12:15, watching from my bedroom window as the Film Monitor was walking up and down the sidewalk - and the production crew kept working with no sense of anyone packing up.

Later at about 1:00ish - the trucks pulled out, pipes were clanging, crew were yelling back and forth to each other, trucks backing up were beeping. Same old, same old.

Donna said she would call me today - I have not heard from her."

Oh, and I haven't forgotten about Geoff's comments in the post below. Geoff, you're right and I was wrong - according to the City Administrative Office, the payment to FilmLA may be up to $572,000 and not $800,000 (item 4). You know, I'm still pretty incensed that $572,000 of our tax dollars finances their malfeasance. See what I did just there? That's how you admit a mistake and fix it. It's probably too much to hope that anyone from FilmLA was taking notes. In any case, stick around, I have more information coming.

Count the days Geoff, they're numbered.

No comments: