LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!
Behind the scenes with Gamal Kostandy, Statewide Film Permit Coordinator.
A Professional Civil Engineer, and since September 1999 the statewide Film Permit Coordinator, Gamal Kostandy takes his work seriously – very seriously. With help from engineering liaisons from each District, Kostandy coordinates all filming on state freeways and highways from Eureka all the way to San Diego, covering the entire state of California. The film companies may provide the lights and the cameras, but the actions done by Kostandy and his team of experts are really what get the cameras rolling.
Filming in California is important. It provides jobs and helps to improve the economy, sometimes bringing in millions of dollars for each day of filming. And from border to border, the process begins with Kostandy and his team. He often fields telephone inquiries from film scouts and location managers about the availability of Caltrans facilities. Then, after he receives the official application for a permit from the California Film Commission, the process begins. This work often involves a great amount of coordination and research from Caltrans engineering experts before decisions are made (one request even included landing a jet aircraft on a state highway.) After an in-depth review process, he issues the permit and writes special provisions for those activities. And sometimes, though rarely, such as the case involving the jet aircraft, filming is denied for safety reasons. “Safety is number one,” said Kostandy.
Due to the nature of his work, some days he will be found hard at work in the office; and other days out in the field before, during and after actual filming. He has also had the opportunity to meet with celebrities, such as Anthony Hopkins and many others. He also maintains an office at the California Film Commission in Los Angeles.
All the while, Kostandy and his experts work hard to make sure that Caltrans minimizes any impacts to the motoring public if lane closures are needed. “Whenever possible, we do filming late at night,” he said, “when traffic counts are lowest.”
He also works closely and cooperatively with state and local agencies, cities, counties, law enforcement, the State Fire Marshall’s office, various units within Caltrans including traffic engineers, Right of Way, Maintenance, Facilities Management and well as intra-district Permit liaisons -- and especially with the California Film Commission and the California Highway Patrol. “There is a great team which we have established among these agencies and the film companies,” Kostandy said. “And we feel that the film companies know we are there to help them.”
Excellent communications skills, superb coordination abilities and teamwork are the main ingredients that are needed perform his job well, Kostandy said, adding that what is also important is being a good listener and asking a lot of questions. For example: “There have been many permits for filming on the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro,” said Kostandy. “We sit around the table, share a lot of dialog and I listen. And I don’t make any decisions until I have all the information. And I don’t have all the information until I asked a lot of questions.” Some of the productions he has been involved with over the years include “The Island” on State Routes 47 and 103 (Vincent Thomas and Schuyler Heim bridges); “Mission Impossible I, II and III” on I-405 and Vincent Thomas Bridge; “Live Free or Die Hard” involving the I-105 Freeway;” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Oceans Twelve,” both at the district office building.
All in all, Kostandy is responsible for some 750 filming permits yearly, a monumental task which requires him to work with several companies and many agencies and people. “It requires a great deal of dedication to coordinate with such a multi-faceted group of people for the past seven years,” added Kostandy’s supervisor, Ferdinand Ordona. “Gamal’s efforts are truly appreciated.”
Those efforts have garnered Kostandy numerous letters of appreciation, and last year he was selected as Public Employee of the Year by the California Film Commission. He credits his success to those with whom he works. “I have a very good team of experts here at District 7 as well as an engineering liaison in each District to help plan, coordinate and approve the permits involved with filming and any planned lane closures as part of the filming,” Kostandy said. “It’s very hard work, but it’s teamwork that makes it work!”