Helicopters in Hollywoodland: A Perpetual Noise Overhead

August 2, 2011 § 2 Comments

Embarking on my Helicopter Shot, May 2007/Hope Anderson Productions

During daylight hours, Beachwood Drive is the scene of nonstop  car and truck traffic. It’s especially bad on weekends, when the roar of engines makes the street sound like a speedway, even from indoors.  

Those who live in the upper Canyon have it worse, however, since much of their traffic noise comes from helicopters. Whether the helicopters are being used by the police and fire departments, news channels, tour companies or camera crews, the result is the same: a nerve-wracking rat-tat-tat of blades as they hover overhead. Sometimes they come close enough to make the houses vibrate.

Incredibly, helicopter traffic over Los Angeles is unregulated by the FAA. Anyone with sufficient funds can charter a helicopter and fly wherever he wants, with minimal red tape. I know this because when I did the helicopter shot over Beachwood Canyon for my documentary, “Under the Hollywood Sign,” in 2007, my big logistical hurdle was renting a sophisticated aerial camera and having it rigged. The helicopter company did have to clear the flight plan with the ranger station on Mt. Lee, but that was because I planned to film the Hollywood Sign, front and back, at close range. (Yes, it was awesome; no, I’ll never do it again.)

Since then, the volume of helicopter traffic has increased tremendously. No one is be able to explain why, but there seems to be a helicopter over Beachwood Canyon at all times during the day, and not infrequently at night. According to Hollywoodland resident Martin Smith,

the tour helicopters as well as those that are shooting and therefore hovering, drive everyone up here mad… I have no idea why those that are filming don’t have to warn the residents beforehand… just as any other filming unit has to when shooting in our neighborhood….post 9/11, a no-fly zone seems sensible as the top of Mt. Lee is so essential to LA’s safety.

Soon after I promised Martin I’d write something about helicopter traffic, the New York Times published this article:


In contrast to the ho-hum reaction to prior complaints, the NYT article got an immediate, high-level response–from none other than Rep. Howard Berman, our U.S. Congressman.  He is sponsoring new legislation to regulate helicopter traffic over Los Angeles, something the FAA so far has refused to do:


From your mouth to the FAA’s ears, Congressman.

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§ 2 Responses to Helicopters in Hollywoodland: A Perpetual Noise Overhead

  • ART FEIN says:


    People who know me pointed out the July 29th announcement of a proposal to regulate helicopter flights over LA to hear my reaction. My only thought was “Where was this 25 years ago? Then my house felt like it was in wartime Viet Nam. Visitors would look in alarm and say “What is THAT” when the dishes rattled and the noise drowned out speech. “Just life in LA” I said.

    In the middle 1980s, in the Franklin/La Brea area of Hollywood, copters would disturb the night every night for a variety of reasons. Police would come out at every whim. I know this because I placed many phone calls and got answers like “There’s a burglary suspect” or “suspicious activity has been reported.” The unmuffled noise was severe.
    When I left town for New York, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, I waited at night for the low copter passes and wondered what was unique about LA. With all the noise we suffered, was our town head and shoulders above all others in crime solving? No, it was just that they were free to use this option because they were the police.

    I keep a muffler on my car. To disconnect it so the pressure on the engine is lessened or I like to feel important making noise is a crime. The crime is disturbing the peace around me. But the police committed this crime daily ! Once a copter crashed in a yard. The news reported with misplaced pride the skill of the pilot in averting the school next to it. Talk about burying the lead, what was a machine fired by gasoline and sparkplugs doing flying anywhere NEAR a school? Or for that matter, a city. I must keep my car quiet, not honk the horn or peel out, near a hospital. Yet copters fly freely in the sky past and around hospitals. Who’s going to stop them – jetpack-man?

    In the late 80s I phoned the FAA about a chopper that sat over my block for a half hour. I learned it was a realtor giving a sales pitch to clients. Why not! The sky is their oyster, we are just earthbound. One night at 12:30 I called the police about a chopper circling endlessly at midnight. They said it wasn’t theirs, that the gas company or another city service was doing a survey. Fly high, fly low, fly for any reason at all. People don’t need to sleep.

    When I had my own tv show on public access in the 90s, I shot circling copters with a video camera for just one week, “placing” the image of the copter in the lower right part of the frame. I transferred 15 minutes of this to broadcast-quality and told the producers of the show to insert the visual in the lower right part of the screen, making certain they turned up the sound so it nearly drowned out our conversation. What ensued was a talk show with people in on the gag shouting, which was not terribly different than a typical night a home.

    A week ago from Whitley Heights I watched choppers huddle over a point somewhere in mid-Hollywood. I could hear their rattle at least a half mile away. How many people were affected by this? There were more than a hundred people living on my old apartment street, one block long. Radiating from that far surely 5,000 people were affected.

    Well, it was a Lady Gaga concert, we should all suffer for her.

    Shouldn’t we?

    Art Fein



  • Jessica says:

    ughhhh…. one going round and round over my apartment right now…
    beachwood and scenic. its black and white. i just want it to go away.

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