The Big Squeeze: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is caught between an LAPD rock and a Hollywood hard place, as cops and movie crews battle over security costs for Tinsel Town location shoots.
The boulder up against Hizzoner’s backside is Police Chief William J. Bratton, who wants to boot uniformed retired officers who provide film-set security in favor of active, off-duty LA cops, who would be accountable to his commanders — and paid nearly double the going rate.
Pressure on the other cheek comes from the financially-struggling film industry, reeling from the recession and record low numbers of on-location TV and film shootings in LA. They say Chief Bratton’s proposal – on which Villaraigosa has stayed decidedly mum – will make it even less attractive for film crews to shoot in L.A., worsening the problem of runaway production.
As he weighs a run for governor, Antonio Alcalde faces a possible political embarrassment no matter which side he favors in the feud: How would it look if he launched a campaign without full backing of his own chief? And what kind of LA mayor wades into a governor’s race without big time Hollywood support?
When Calbuzz started asking questions about the dispute, Villaraigosa’s press people hemmed, hawed and scurried around for two days to come up with some answers, and finally told us late Friday the mayor is hoping to work out a compromise. But retired cops have had the sweet gig for location security services for half-a-century, and it looks to us like the mayor risks honking off either the film industry – which has rallied around the ex-officers — or the LAPD and Bratton, who argues that the incumbent retirees are not accountable.
As far as we can tell, nobody has looked at how this issue might affect Tony V if he runs for governor. The LA Times has been following the issue as a business story and, to some degree, as a local labor beef between the LAPD and the coalition of labor and industry groups, That includes the Teamsters and the Motion Picture Association of America, who are fighting to keep things as they’ve been for the last 50 years. As Nikki Finke has noted in Deadline Hollywood Daily, Film LA is peeved that the movie-cop issue remains unstuck.
Location cops now make about $50 an hour. Under Bratton’s proposal, if the studios want to keep cops in LAPD uniforms, they’d have to pay time-and-a-half plus a 14% administrative fee — which adds up to $80-$100 an hour, according to Gene Patterson, secretary of the Motion Picture Officers Association.
“The mayor doesn’t have to be caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Marilyn Bitner of Plan A Locations, a company that brokers residential and commercial sites to the film industry: “If you drive out production, you’re losing resources that fund the police,” she told Calbuzz. “I don’t know why the mayor won’t weigh in”
Bitner and other LA sources also told us Villaraigosa has only a perfunctory relationship with the film industry, which may help explain why it took Villaraigosa’s political consultants and LA press people two full days to explain where he stands on the issue.
We got bounced from one staff person to another until spokeswoman Janelle Erickson finally told us: “The mayor enjoys a very close relationship with the film and entertainment industry in LA. It’s always a priority in the mayor’s office to support an industry that creates jobs.”
According to Erickson, Villaraigosa is working on a “compromise” that would allow retired cops to continue location work, but not in their LAPD uniforms. There’s the rub: retired cops and filmmakers we spoke to said that’s no compromise at all. Unless movie cops look like real LAPD officers, they say, there’s no way they can command the authority needed to secure a film site.
“You can’t stop traffic and run interference if you look like a mall security guard,” said Peterson, a retired detective supervisor with 37 years in the LAPD.
Erickson referred us to the Director’s Guild of America where spokeswoman Sahar* Moridani, offered this lukewarm comment: “We’ve always enjoyed and appreciated the open access and the support we’ve received from the mayor’s office.”
It is true that Villaraigosa enjoyed financial support in his re-elect from high-end names in the entertainment world like Spielberg, Geffen, Katzenberg, Hanks, Reiner, Streisand et. al. But they aren’t the ones on the front lines of this fight.
“He may have a relationship with the Steven Spielbergs of the world,” Bitner said, “but he doesn’t have a relationship with the working industry – the people below the line,” referring to location managers, line producers, camera, set and design crews, plus the large number of others who work on location.
So who’s Villaraigosa gonna pick — the working film industry or the chief? As one L.A. media pal of ours put it: “Kind of your classic lady or the tiger.”
*Oops — in the original we called her Sarah. Sorry.
Furthermore: Since our original post, we caught another look at the issue on Sharon Waxman’s “The Wrap”