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Straight Shooting

June 27, 2005 By

A helicopter hovers over a small stretch of California highway. Horns blare. A car launches into the air and lands in an explosive ball of fire as people hurriedly abandon their vehicles and run for safety.

It looks like a scene straight out of a movie, and that's because it is. The cameras are rolling, capturing every action-packed moment on film in hopes of raking in millions at the box office.

From the motion picture studio's perspective, deciding where to film is integral to the success of any film. From California's perspective, it's an important source of revenue for state coffers and an opportunity to capture valuable economic data to better compete with other states for film studios' business.

A Partner Within

When a studio wants to transform a state highway typically congested with daily commuters into a movie set, the studio must get a permit from the California Film Commission (CFC), which issues permits for filming on state property.

When the CFC realized its existing permitting system was falling short of satisfactory, it turned to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to create a new system that issues permits online.

"We're a large organization with highly skilled and trained technical staff," said Suzanne Slayton, chief of Caltrans' Finance and Administration Application Systems Support Office. "The commission did not have the same type of technical expertise available to them, so they were able to get a low-cost solution that got the job done by leveraging our infrastructure using our staff."

Caltrans and the CFC are both departments under the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, and Caltrans already plays a part in the permitting process.

"We had a lot of knowledge on permitting processes," said Slayton. "We have the other half of it basically."

Any permit request regarding filming on state roadways has to be approved by Caltrans, she explained. A Caltrans liaison working in the CFC office reviews permit applications, and then sends them to Caltrans' District 7 office in Los Angeles for processing.

Detailed Efficiency

The new system from Caltrans has been in production, including the testing phase, since December 2004. From December to April, it generated 986 applications and had 250 registered users.

Because the permits generate revenue for the state, the commission tracks important economic statistics included in the permit applications, said CFC Director Amy Lemisch.

The old system asked whether the project was to be television, commercial, feature, student or still photography, but the new system asks for more.

"Within those categories, we're breaking it up into more detail," said Lemisch. "For example, television is broken up into six different categories now. We're asking for information we never asked the client for in terms of their budget range and number of people on the crew. With this information, we'll have better data on the numbers of people that are employed each year, or that are employed by certain types of production."

One of the CFC's goals for the new system is following the economic and job-related statistics of film projects on state property, such as how many people were employed by feature films, how many hours of television filming took place last year, or what the average budget was for features. This way, the CFC can keep track of the business coming to California, and the revenue and jobs that result.

Prior to the new system, statistics were available but weren't easy to collect. "They would have to go back and hand-crank through all of their paper files to generate statistics," Slayton said.

Manually inputting the statistical data into the system was also difficult. "Somebody had to do major data entry," explained Lemisch.

This process was time-consuming, and the information

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