Tuesday, October 17, 2017
  • Friday, Aug. 18, 2000
Legality Of Ad Shoot Ban Questioned

The latest municipal proposal to ban commercial shoots on public and city-owned property has stalled. During a West Hollywood City Council meeting last week (8/7), Mayor Jeffrey Prang, who proposed the measure, and the City Council members, voted to refer the motion to the City Attorney for a review of the legal ramifications of implementing such a ban.

The results of the City Attorney's review will be revisited at the next scheduled City Council meeting, later this month. However, its passing seems unlikely. Council member John Heilman said that he was "very skeptical about the constitutionality of this proposal. Filming is a First Amendment activity. We can't close off a public forum. I'm opposed [to the measure]."

The proposed ban in West Hollywood follows similar proposals in Los Angeles (SHOOT, 7/14, p. 1), Chicago (SHOOT, 7/28, p. 1) and New York (SHOOT, 8/4, p. 1), all of which have pretty much fallen by the wayside. The measures were formulated as a means to address the strike by the two major actors' unions—the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA)—against the ad industry.

The question of a film ban's legality was raised in a letter to the Council members by attorney John A. McGuinn, chief negotiator for the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A's). McGuinn cited a legal precedent in which "the Supreme Court of the United States instructed the Los Angeles City Council not to interfere in an ongoing labor dispute." The 1986 case was Golden State Transit Corp. v. the City of Los Angeles.

Council members voted in favor of a resolution "requesting federal intervention in the SAG/ AFTRA strike against commercial television production to bring both parties [the JPC and the actors' unions] back to the negotiating table," and to direct the West Hollywood Public Information Office (PIO) to require that certain questions be completed on all film permits. Those questions include: the amount of street space that will be affected by the work; whether any disruptions to the filming, such as a demonstration, are expected; and whether or not the filming is subject to any current labor dispute.

Heilman noted that such questions are standard procedure; however, the Council members agreed that adopting the resolution would underline the importance of the questions during the strike. Mayor Prang said those resolutions "are to reiterate things in an extreme circumstance." Concern over the accuracy of information supplied in film permit applications is the result of SAG/AFTRA claims that there have been incidents of so-called "phony permits," wherein permittees intentionally mislead would-be protesters as to a filming location or the true nature of the shoot. The latter is distorted when an applicant requests a filming permit to shoot a music video or industrial film although, in fact, the project being lensed is a commercial.

The Council members also voted: 1) to direct West Hollywood's manager of public information or PIO staff to review all film permits in order to determine whether additional protections for traffic and public safety are necessary, and to notify appropriate city departments; and 2) to direct the PIO department to charge the permittee for all additional protections deemed necessary by appropriate city departments.

Finally, Council member (non-actor) Steve Martin proposed an amendment or clause to the resolution that would reflect the City Council's support of SAG/AFTRA. According to a City Council document, "the 90046 zip code, which covers a segment of West Hollywood, has the largest SAG membership in the United States."

During the City Council meeting, 16 concerned parties testified, including: Steve Caplan, senior VP of external affairs for the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP); AICP/West president Brian Donnelly, executive producer of bicoastal OneSuch Films; actor David Graf; actress Valerie Harper; David Jolliffe, 11th national VP of SAG; Lori Lober, executive producer of bicoastal The Artists Company and its bicoastal sister shop The A&R Group; Jennifer Nieman, executive producer of Circle 2K Entertainment, Los Angeles; and AICP/West VP Gary Rose, executive producer of bicoastal Moxie Pictures.

Caplan noted his "strong opposition" to the proposed ban, adding that the strike is between SAG/AFTRA and the ANA and 4A's, not against the production community, which would ultimately be punished by a filming ban. "All of us producers and crew members are caught in the middle of this dispute," he said. He also suggested, "It's ironic that we're here. For the past two years we've been working to bring filming back to this area. This measure will send jobs out of Los Angeles County."

Rose related that an average commercial shoot requires five actors, compared to an average of 100 crew members who would suffer from a ban. He continued, "SAG has made it a frightening situation to shoot here. We're shooting in other places, and the longer the strike goes on, the less production will return."

Representing the actors' unions, Harper argued that for the City Council to allow shooting to go on is "taking [the advertising industry's] side. A neutral stance," she stated, "will force the negotiation of a fair deal." She and other SAG/AFTRA representatives defined a neutral stance as not allowing any filming until the strike is resolved.

And Graf spoke about the dangers of shooting with amateur, non-union stunt performers and other crew. He cited examples of property damage, incidents in which a performer was seriously injured, and one shoot in which two trained armadillos were killed by a truck operator.

AICP president Matt Miller, who is based in New York, sent a letter to the City Council which stated: "By supporting the strikers' position, you are putting at risk the livelihoods of many other constituents. Shutting down production takes away others' right to earn a living. While it is our deepest desire that the bargaining parties reach a resolution as soon as possible, we must continue to work in order to survive."