Richard Verrier | LA Times: Company Town: The business behind the show | http://lat.ms/gGiN9w
Photo: Cast members on the set of MTV's "The Hard Times of RJ Berger," which is filmed at Reseda High School. Credit: MTV
November 30, 2010 | 1:11 pm - From the John Travolta musical “Grease” to the current Fox hit “Glee,” L.A. County schools have long served as locations for TV shows and movies.
But few schools have gone Hollywood as much as Reseda High School.
The San Fernando Valley high school is in the second year of hosting the MTV comedy “The Hard Times of RJ Berger.” The series not only films primarily at the school and surrounding Reseda neighborhoods, but has its base camp and production offices on school property.
The unusual arrangement gives producers, who mainly film on weekends and after-school hours when students aren’t in class, ready-made sets and allows them to keep their costs down by not having to shuttle back and forth to a studio lot.
“It’s a huge savings to us because everything is in walking distance," said Craig Cannold, a producer on the show. “The school has been great to work with.”
For Reseda High the benefits are strictly dollars and cents: School officials say the production will generate about $60,000 for the school this year alone -- bringing in sorely needed revenue at a time when many schools are faced with budget cuts and layoffs.
“Our school needs the money," says Neezer McNab, assistant principal at Reseda High. “If this helps some teachers keep their jobs, then I’ll do what I can to keep this happening.”
Facing similar circumstances, many other L.A. schools are marketing themselves to filmmakers, according to FilmL.A. Inc., which helps school districts secure license agreements that allow filmmakers to lease school property for filming.
From January through November, FilmLA handled 411 licenses for filming of mainly commercials, TV shows and movies on school properties, up 38% from the same period in 2008. And the number of production days for school filming – one production day is defined as a crew’s permission to film at a single location in a 24 hour period – has jumped nearly 40% in the last two years, FilmL.A. officials said.
The Los Angeles Unified School District charges $3,100 per day for filming on a school property (including parking).
“Schools are recognizing outside revenue streams and courting filmmakers," said Patricia Edgar, who manages school district properties for FilmL.A. “We now have at least 80 schools on our location library and we’re adding to it everyday.”
“Hard Times” is a comedy about the awkward lives of a deeply unpopular 15-year-old RJ Berger, played by Paul Iacono, and his best friend Miles Jenner, played by Jareb Dauplaise. Executive producers are David Katzenberg, son of DreamWorks Animation Chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Seth Grahame-Smith.
The series began filming its second season at Reseda High School in mid-October. Although the pilot was filmed at Taft High School in Woodland Hills, producers said they selected Reseda High as its home base because of the school’s Midwestern look (the show is set in Ohio).
Another selling point: The school offered an unused classroom that was a ready-made set and provided use for extra parking space, which houses trailers for production offices, wardrobe and cast and serves as the base camp.
To minimize disruption to students, producers altered their normal schedule to shoot mainly on weekends and afternoons after students have finished classes. “We try to stay out of their way as best we can,” Cannold said.
Producers signed an agreement preventing them from filming or having contact with the students and giving the school the right to turn down requests, such as a time when producers wanted to film in a building while students were taking an S.A.T. test.
Virtually the entire school is featured in the series -– the cafeteria, hallways, library, gyms and football field. The football team -- 10 wins in 11 games -- once agreed to move a scheduled practice after producers offered a financial contribution to the team.
“They don’t get to do everything they want, and we get a little bit inconvenienced," McNab says. “But in the long run, it’s good for them and it’s good for us.’’