South Pasadena Flourishing as a Hotbed for Film Shoots

Joan Aguado, South Pasadena’s film liaison, speaks at the monthly Chamber of Commerce meeting at Mike & Anne’s. Photo by Harry Yadav

South Pasadena hosts roughly 200 film shoots a year. Over the past couple of years alone, two Oscar nominees for Movie of the Year, “La La Land” and “Ladybird,” featured scenes shot at the Rialto, Kaldi’s and the high school gymnasium.

The city’s small-town charm and proximity to major studios account for part of its attractiveness to production companies. Streets and sidewalks retain their integrity, unlike other popular filming destinations.

South Pas is within the 30-mile zone designated by the California Film Commission as the area union film projects must use to determine per diem rates and driving distances for crew members. It is only a short drive from a number of major studios, such as Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., located in Burbank.

Additionally, South Pasadena’s accommodating treatment of film crews, as well the filming-friendly attitude of the City and its residents, make it one of the most attractive filming destinations in the San Gabriel Valley.

Two decades ago, however, it was becoming increasingly rare to spot production crews on the city’s streets.

“At the time, we weren’t very friendly to film crews,” recalled longtime resident and owner of Reimagine Your Home, John Vandercook, this week. “In particular, we made it difficult for film scouts to negotiate with businesses.”

This began to change 18 years ago, when South Pasadena hired Joan Aguado part-time to manage its film shoots. Soon after, she was hired full-time as the City’s first true film liaison, a role she has served in ever since.

Aguado was the guest speaker Tuesday morning at the Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Shoptalk Breakfast, held at Mike & Anne’s Restaurant on Mission Street. There, she spoke about her responsibilities as film liaison and took audience questions.

“I’m the person to call if there is any question or concern about any aspect of filming in the city,” she said. “If you want filming, call me. If you hate filming, call me. If you want to know what shoot is going on down the street from you, call me.”

Aguado works closely with production companies to make sure crews are operating with the right permits. She also works closely with residents to minimize the interference filming can cause to their businesses or neighborhoods.

Despite the many benefits filming brings the city, Aguado stressed that she does not abide by a film-at-all-costs strategy.

“I pride myself on having friends who hate the film industry,” she said. “My allegiance is to the City and its residents. In the past, we’ve rescheduled shoots because of a wedding going on in a resident’s backyard. I’m happy to do that.”

Chamber President Laurie Wheeler attested to Aguado’s responsiveness to the needs of businesses.

“Lots of times, production companies want to shoot at the Farmers’ Market. Joan always calls me first to make sure it is okay with all the vendors and businesses before she okays the project,” Wheeler said.

Speaking after Aguado Tuesday morning, Councilmember Bob Joe described her as “someone who exemplifies the value of customer service, a one-person operation, and a really great asset for our city.”

The small congestion and parking problems that can result are real disturbances, but the negatives of filming pale in comparison to its benefits to the city and its residents.

The City makes approximately $100,000 a year in license fees. A portion of the fees goes back to South Pasadena merchants as a result of the Business Improvement Tax. Another portion goes towards Aguado’s salary.

“The real money gets dumped into the neighborhoods and commercial areas,” she said, pointing out that crew members shop and eat at South Pasadena businesses and restaurants when they visit on business.

How much can home or business owners expect from a day of shooting at their properties?

According to Aguado, offers can be anywhere from “$800 at the low end to $7000 a day at the high end, and everything in between.”

“The thing I hear from residents over and over again,” she continued, “is, ‘those film crews must have loads of cash.’ The reality is, crews have budgets. You have to be willing to negotiate with them.”

Aguado also said that there is not necessarily a going rate for shoots. 

“Often, they come to you and say, ‘how much do you want?’” she said.

The City’s police and fire departments benefit tremendously from film shoots as well, using them as opportunity to rack up overtime hours the City cannot provide.

“Police makes around $240-250,000 a year in overtime fees,” Aguado said. “Fire makes around $150,000. The golf course, on a normal year, profits by about $80,000.”

Though shoots in the School District parking lot are handled separately from the City, Aguado said that the District alone has made $80-100,000 in previous years.

“They make a ton of money that goes right back to schools,” she explained. “Money made from shooting at schools goes directly into the school at which the shooting took place, which is pretty special.”

Aguado is in her 18th year with the City of South Pasadena. She has a background in film production and script development, and has experience working at several studios. Her two sons graduated from South Pasadena High School.