L.A. high school banking on Hollywood

January 06, 2004|By Erika Hayasaki | Erika Hayasaki,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES - With its ginger-colored brick buildings and pine trees, University High School near the expensive Brentwood district in the western part of the city can pass for an elite eastern college or a New England prep school. It has played such parts in movies, television shows and commercials.

Film crews have just one complaint about the school's appearance: Those blooming birds of paradise out front spoil the Ivy League effect.

Not for long. The tropical-looking plants with their spiky orange-and-blue blossoms are about to be torn up.

Serving as a film location is more than a matter of fleeting glamour for University High, whose credits include Bruce Almighty and The Hot Chick and television's 7th Heaven and Lizzie McGuire. The school collected $25,000 from movie and TV producers last year, and officials want to keep the money flowing.

"We will find a way to accommodate them," said assistant principal Ali Galedary.

With school districts across California facing painful budget cuts, Southern California campuses are courting movie and television production companies.

Producers pay several thousand dollars a day to shoot at schools. Some also donate furniture and theater equipment or pay for campus renovations.

So some school districts are grooming their grounds for cameo and starring roles. Others are posting photos on the Web to advertise their campuses as potential Hollywood locations.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has hired the county film-promotion agency to promote its classrooms, gyms, libraries and cafeterias.

The number of campuses volunteering to be film locations has grown from 19 to 160 in the last year. The district's annual film revenue has doubled to $1 million, officials said.

It used to be that a film crew showed up at a Los Angeles school once every few weeks. Now, it happens nearly every day, according to Susan Yackley, who coordinates and promotes filming at schools through the county's Entertainment Industry Development Corp.

"This is not going to solve the budget crisis, but it's going to give them a little extra discretionary money," Yackley said.

Some students and teachers complain that filming is disruptive and messy. Officials also worry that footage of their schools might wind up in a porn or slasher flick.

Still, administrators say they are as welcoming as possible because they need the money.

The district charges $1,700 a day for filming on its campuses. About 15 percent of that goes to the development corporation, 65 percent to the individual school and 20 percent to the district, to be spread among all campuses at the end of the year.

University High School has served as a backdrop for 38 movies, TV shows and commercials in the past two years. Freebies from film companies supplement the fees it receives. Last year, 20th Century Fox donated $12,000 worth of lunch tables to replace old, graffiti-marred ones.

Galedary said administrators allow crews to work during school hours, and are willing to move teachers or students out of classrooms and other areas to make way for cameras.

"Our kids understand, and our teachers understand, that filming is beneficial to University High School," he said.

"We are intrusive," said Woody Kane, a location manager for 7th Heaven. "When you start displacing students and teachers, you really are impacting the campus."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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