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Commentary: NBC probes (?) value of TV, film shoots at LAUSD schools

Craig Clough | October 8, 2015

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Cameron Diaz in "Bad Teacher"

Cameron Diaz in “Bad Teacher”

Oh my, where to begin with this recent NBC Los Angeles “expose” on LA Unified allowing campuses to be used for film and television shoots.

There are two angles to this story, the first is the accusation that production crews are disrupting learning and causing problems on campuses, leading NBC to conclude that the district is “lacking oversight” and has “little accountability” regarding the productions. The second is the “raunchy content” of some of the productions and the suggestion that students were exposed to it during filming. (See the full segment attached at the bottom of the story.)

NBC says it has obtained emails and documents that show schools can’t keep track of all of the production crews, which are causing “thousands of dollars of damage” and “major problems” that disrupt learning.

How many emails and how many documents? The report doesn’t say. With a district that has over 1,000 schools and has likely hosted dozens if not hundreds of film and TV shoots in recent years, how many emails constitute a “major” problem? This is not made clear, either. In fact, how many productions has the district allowed on its campuses? Right, not clear.

If the district has in fact collected $10 million dollars over the last five years from the productions, as the report says, doesn’t that more than cover the cost of the “thousands of dollars of damage” these productions have caused?

Something else: Why is Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, being interviewed in this story? How many rungs down the ladder of relevance is he in relation to this issue? Even if you buy into all the other criticism in the piece, the district is deriving a big profit from the productions. Isn’t that a wise use of the taxpayer-funded campuses?

Reporter Jenna Susko shoves a mic in Superintendent Ramon Cortines’ face and says that “sexually explicit” material is being filmed on district campuses. Cortines refutes this, saying, “You have no evidence,” and rightfully so, because “sexually explicit” generally means nudity or pornography. That is not what was uncovered here at all.

At most, a few R-rated movies, edgy TV shows and “racy” photo shots were filmed on campuses, and there was no nudity or pornography whatsoever uncovered by NBC. Is NBC suggesting only G-rated Disney movies should be filmed on LA Unified campuses? As long as students are not present during the filming of any edgy content, isn’t the large sum the cash-strapped district is making from the productions worth it?

Who produced this segment, the Church Lady? All that is missing from the disdainful tone Susko uses to describe the “raunchy content” of the “R-rated” film “Bad Teacher” and a “sexy car wash at Burroughs Middle School” with Cameron Diaz is someone asking, “Well isn’t that special?”

Were Burroughs students present during the “Bad Teacher” car wash scene? The segment does not say, but a casual viewer might assume so.

Only two actual incidences of students being exposed to potentially inappropriate content are uncovered in the story. One was at Birmingham Charter, which is actually an independent charter school, essentially making it independent of any district oversight on this topic and most.

The second allegation raises more questions than it answers, claiming that a man wearing underwear and a “ball and gag” in his mouth was part of a production in a University High School classroom in front of students. But then it is revealed the shoot was “never approved” by the district. If that is the case, then why is it included in this story that focuses on the district officially approving too many film shoots? And if this incident really did happen, why is the only person who is asked about it from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association?

It is just a fact that some productions on campuses may be R-rated, and they may involve the occasional four-letter word or off-color joke. As long as students are not present during the filming — and it appears from the segment that is not actually happening — what is the true harm? Some of the TV shows NBC finds questionable like “Glee,” “Masters of Sex” and “Big Love” are critically acclaimed and Emmy-winning. Is LA Unified to allow only a live-action version of “Frozen” or the “Full House” reboot? Does NBC think the district needs a full-time censor to approve scripts?

How many thousands of parents of LAUSD students are employed directly or indirectly by the entertainment industry? It has been well documented that California for years has been losing productions to other states and overseas, and that it has a devastating impact on the local economy. Ask Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian about it, as he has advocated for tax incentives to help keep productions from leaving the city.

This is Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world, and if we want to keep it that way, a welcoming attitude toward TV and film production is part of the deal. What Angeleno hasn’t encountered a film shoot disrupting traffic? But it’s helping one of the city’s most important industries, and, hey, “Isn’t that Will Ferrell? Cool.”

NBC says “there is still a lot more left to this story” and another segment is expected tonight. Perhaps some of these questions will be answered. LAUSD has a lot of issues to answer for — low test scores, $40 billion needed to modernize campuses, an iPad program being investigated by a federal grand jury, to name a few.

This shouldn’t be one of them.

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