A recent request to shoot scenes for a feature-length film at Newport Beach’s Balboa Fun Zone — which required temporary closure of the family entertainment center — has some business owners calling for edits to the city’s film ordinance.
Local officials, working with third-party liaison FilmLA, had processed permits for a production company to film scenes throughout Newport Beach for “Jesus Revolution,” a movie about the life of Orange County pastor Greg Laurie starring comedian Jim Gaffigan, set for release in 2023.
To accommodate filming, the Fun Zone would have to be closed to foot traffic on Friday and Saturday.
But a handful of business owners who run largely tourist-based shops and services one block over say the closure is poorly timed — taking place on the final weekend of the spring-break rush — and could hurt their bottom lines.
“All of us will lose a ton of money on this,” Tony George, longtime owner of custom T-shirt and gift shop Surfside Pick Your Print, said Thursday.
George maintains he and other surrounding business owners received scant notice a film crew had plans to shut down a portion of the Boardwalk on a weekend when regular tourists still on spring break set their sights on Newport Beach.
“The way I found out about it was a location manager came to me about renting part of my parking lot,” said George, who took his concerns to City Hall. “The city is responding by saying, ‘We’re sorry, but it’s too late.’ That’s not helping anybody.”
Surfside Pick Your Print is one of a few businesses one block over from the Fun Zone, along a segment of the Balboa Boardwalk that was not shut down for filming. While businesses in the zone were offered reimbursement for the closure, owners say adjacent stores received no compensation.
Armando Terrones owns the waterfront snack stand Balboa Beach Treats. He bought the business in 2019 and suffered two terrible years during the pandemic but said things were just beginning to pick up when, earlier this week, he received a small postcard notifying him of the filming.
“This is literally my first almost-real spring break. According to everyone, this was the big week,” Terrones said Thursday. “It was kind of a bummer to find out this was happening now.”
Ranjit Mac, who’s owned the Blue Sails gift shop for 23 years, wants to know why she and others weren’t involved in any discussions or given a chance to suggest alternative filming days.
“They have to do a meeting with all the business owners and find out what is the best time to give the film people,” she said. “We tried to send [the city] emails and called them — they said we cannot do anything because it doesn’t affect you.”
Filming notification requirements are handled on a case-by-case basis, according to city spokesman John Pope. When a crew wishes to film in a residential area, a 500-foot notification radius is a common condition of approval, but in commercial areas such mandates are less clearly defined.
Although a page on Newport Beach’s website says the city may require a film crew to formally notify areas affected by a production, the ordinance doesn’t spell out guidelines for notification.
“For businesses, we’d look at what is a reasonable area to provide notice to the closure zone and folks who would be impacted by the closure,” Pope said. “The ordinance allows for staff to make that call.”
At a March 22 meeting, Councilwoman Diane Dixon requested the council reexamine the city’s film ordinance and compare it to laws in similar cities to see if improvements might be made. The motion passed unanimously.
In addition to receiving an email from George, Dixon was contacted in January by Balboa Peninsula residents, who had complaints about another filming project lasting for months.
“After digging deeper, I realized we haven’t reviewed our filming ordinance in a while,” she said Thursday. “I do know the city works hard to accommodate filming requests. [But] we have to be cognizant of impacts on residents and business owners.”
For caricature artist Tracy Buck, who’s been penning likenesses on the boardwalk for 25 years, a little cognizance would be appreciated.
“I would like a general heads-up on something like that,” he said.