By CJ Dablo
Long Beach has accommodated some unusual requests when filmmakers approach the team from the Office of Special Events and Filming. At the monthly “Chat with Pat” community meeting hosted by Fourth District Councilmember Patrick O’Donnell on April 6 at the Los Altos Library, two members of the department that handles these requests in the name of show business named a few memorable items from production company wish lists: planes have “crashed” in Marina Vista Park, a grizzly bear flew in a helicopter, air cannons have flipped buses on Shoreline Drive. It’s all in a day’s work for the team who handles the logistics of getting special events and film and television projects in the city of Long Beach.
It usually begins when the team hears a pitch from the folks responsible for making television and movie magic.
“When our meetings start [with] ‘Picture this:’ we know we’re in for a great ride,” said David Ashman, manager of the Office of Special Events and Filming.
They can get the approval to seamlessly change Long Beach into just about any city.
Shoreline Drive became downtown Shanghai for the Transformers movies. The Stark Industries building featured in Iron Man? Also on Shoreline Drive. Long Beach pretends to be the glamorous Florida destination on CSI: Miami. Who said the high school drama on Fox’s Glee takes place in Ohio? Nah, it’s really at Long Beach’s Cabrillo High School.
But the team doesn’t just handle requests from television and film production companies. They also coordinate the special events that take place year round, including the Toyota Grand Prix and last year’s New Year’s Eve celebration.
“Temporary special events are a great way to raise money in a hurry if you want to sustain a local economy,” said Ashman, who explained that special events also generate revenue for the city’s local businesses. But the “City by the Sea” has a special reputation with television and film production companies, and, in return, the entertainment industry brings in serious money to the city coffers.
“Of course, we’re a great economic generator. Filming brings about $27 million in direct economic impact a year,” said Ashman. And they don’t use the city’s taxpayer dollars from the general fund, according to Ashman. They are funded largely from revenue and transient occupancy tax on hotel accommodations.
Ashman also emphasized that the city has not compromised its reputation in exchange for a few minutes on the silver screen.
“So we want to take on events or filming opportunities that make sense: they’re the right fit at the right time and the right place so that we can make a little money,” said Ashman, as he explained how they can create enjoyable events without any lasting negative impact. “We’re also responsible for maintaining the brand of the city, the image of the city. The City has spent a lot of money renovating our downtown areas, working in business corridors to upgrade those facilities. We want to make sure we have a positive image when we’re associated with filming or associated with special events.”
The City has strict standards and requires permission from the neighborhoods that have been picked for location shoots. According to Tasha Day, who is responsible for much of the logistics, they do take the steps to inform the residents and businesses when they plan a film and television shoot. They ensure they obtain the permission from the majority of the people whose neighborhoods are directly impacted, they said.
“We require a signature process no matter what you’re doing. We don’t care where you are,” Day said, explaining that her department even has a staff member monitor the project to ensure that filmmakers comply with the City’s guidelines.
And they don’t want to make too much of a fuss during production that would negatively impact the city.
“Our goal is to make filming invisible,” said Ashman. “You shouldn’t see it till we’re gone.”
And they avoid publishing the shooting schedules in advance, they said, recalling problems with the paparazzi. No, they won’t tell you that Brad Pitt was in town on a shoot. Nor that Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks filmed near one of the city’s Target stores.
But they also want to ensure that the community is not only informed but excited about a project when they are directly affected. It also helps when a production company also recognizes how much they appreciate Long Beach’s constituents. About a year or two ago, the production company that handled filming for the Showtime series Dexter hosted a block party for the neighborhood.
“They have probably one of the more interesting and unique missions in the city,” said O’Donnell. “They do a good job. They have to be very flexible, and people yell at them a lot.”
It’s only a team of eight personnel that are directly responsible for these location shoots, and they can get a location ready for a shoot within three days of a request, they said.
And even though the team members need to be available every day of the week, often giving up weekends and evenings to successfully execute an event or production shoot, Day laughed as she recalled the number of productions she’s helped. Even when bears fly in helicopters.
“It’s a fun job,” she said. “Fun city gig if you can get it.”