The Los Angeles Unified School District has found an unusual solution to at least some of its budget woes: selling more licenses to film production companies. Filming fees are up 40 percent for the district, and the district has grossed about $8.924 million since 2010, when its most recent contract with FilmLA went into effect, according to figures released by school administration Thursday.
"It helps with a lot of extra things like computer labs, band uniforms or our athletic teams," said Rick Prizant, an administrator at Birmingham Community Charter High School in Van Nuys. Prizant says filming has become such a common sight, students at Birmingham are no longer phased by the camera crews, which are kept away from instruction.
The school has provided settings for an Old Navy commercial, a few episodes of TV's "Cold Case" and even a cameo on the series "Parks and Recreation." Birmingham has already hosted 15 days of shooting this year, with most location scouts looking for that classic, middle-America backdrop.
"They want the look to be Midwest all the time," said Prizant. "We don't have a lot of palm trees."
Each full day is billed at $3,100 (college filmmakers get a steep discount: $315 for four hours), plus there are surcharges for parking, custodians and overnight stays.
The school site gets to keep 75 percent of filming fees; 16 percent is handed over to FilmLA, which handles coordination with producers; and the rest goes into the district's general funds.
"We've been able to help bring more of that money into the school system and those individual schools with needs that can't be currently funded with public money," said Paul Audley, president of FilmLA, which represents eight school districts, including Glendale, Norwalk-La Mirada, San Gabriel and Burbank.
In 2002, only 19 of L.A. Unified's schools were used on camera, pulling in only $200,000 a year, according to Audley. Now, 305 schools are participating, for a combined average of more than $2 million annually.
"One of the greatest things about being here is that you can get schools that look like they were built — and were built — in the 1920s," Audley said. "They can look like New England. They can be very urban and gritty, very modern and glistening."
FilmLA has a searchable photo database of L.A.-area schools that can be sorted by dozens of criteria, including era and architectural elements such as brick or industrial.
It would be easier for Angelenos to find their neighborhood school or alma mater in the database than on the screen, since almost every production avoids getting school names, mascots or other identifiers in the shot.