Forces Join to Keep Filming on Massacre Out of Town

Times Staff Writer

The City of San Diego earned $4 million last year from television shows and movies filmed here. But this week it began taking steps to assure that one dramatic miniseries won't be shot in San Diego--at least not if the mayor, the City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and San Ysidro residents can help it.

"Film it in Fresno. Film it somewhere else. But don't film it in San Ysidro!" Mayor Roger Hedgecock said Monday before the council unanimously adopted a resolution opposing any production filmed here that would depict July's mass murders in San Ysidro.

On July 18, gunman James Huberty opened fire in a crowded McDonald's restaurant in San Ysidro. He killed 21 people and wounded 15 before he was killed by a police sharpshooter. It was the worst single-day mass murder in U.S. history.

The murders have made a lasting impression on San Diegans, so deep that "the emotional distress of the tragedy is still with us," the council resolution noted.

They have also made an impression on Larry Spivey, an independent producer from Sherman Oaks, who is planning a television miniseries which, he said, will depict the tragedy tastefully.

Tasteful or not, by Tuesday city staffers were acting on the council resolution and working hard to keep Spivey's production out oftown.

Shortly after noon, City Manager Ray Blair directed that no city officials should issue permits for Spivey's film or for any film relating to the massacre "until they hear first from me."

He also directed Police Chief Bill Kolender not to work with Spivey. Kolender last week had said his officers would act as unpaid consultants to Spivey's film, reviewing the script to make sure it did not glorify Huberty.

But Tuesday Kolender said, "We are going to follow the edict of the City Council. . . . I don't think we should be involved in the film. I do think reviewing the script would be to our advantage. But if the council doesn't want it, then that's the way it'll be."

Also Tuesday, Deputy City Atty. Curtis M. Fitzpatrick said he would look at legal issues under which a filming permit for any production on the massacre could be denied.

He quoted a doctrine first articulated in 1919 by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes that balances the right of free speech with those of health and safety.

"Nobody's got the right to holler 'fire' in a crowded theater," Fitzpatrick said, paraphrasing Holmes. "If speech was clearly going to arouse . . . speech can be restrained.

"Suppose after the assassination of John Kennedy or Robert Kennedy or Martin Luther King--within a relatively short time after--a filmmaker wanted to do a documentary. . . . I think you could say, 'Hey, no way.' "

The analogy applies to the San Ysidro massacre, "clearly the most traumatic incident" in San Diego history, Fitzpatrick said.

In addition to speaking to the city staff, Blair asked Wally Schlotter, director of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce's Motion Picture and Television Bureau, not to assist Spivey. Schlotter agreed.

The bureau receives $145,000 in city funds each year to encourage filming in San Diego. Typically, once a producer has a script and a network commitment, Schlotter will help secure needed city permits and police support. Without the bureau's assistance, a producer would find it more difficult to close streets or film on public property, Schlotter said.

Actually, the chamber was a step ahead of Blair in deciding to refuse Spivey a permit.

On Friday, chamber directors formally opposed the production in San Diego of a film on the massacre. They also decided that "if it is made, it is much too soon (after the murders), and that the film should not be made in San Diego," Schlotter said.

Still, concern over Spivey's film may be premature, Schlotter suggested. Normally, his bureau does not provide assistance to a producer until it is clear that he has backing for his film. Schlotter said he had been unable, despite repeated calls to network television stations, to confirm such backing in Spivey's case.

"To me, that (backing) means a script and a contract," Schlotter said. "We have people all the time who have a good idea. . . . We like to separate the flakes from the doers. Not that he (Spivey) is a flake. But this has no script. And as far as I know he has no production company, no network, no contract."

Meanwhile, Spivey, in a brief interview, said that he does have a network commitment, although he could not disclose any names. And though no script is written, Spivey said, "We're committed all the way around--deals all the way from conception to completion to air. But it's confidential at this point."

Spivey, who produced an acclaimed made-for-television movie on the 1982 stabbing of actress Theresa Saldana, said he would soon reveal major news that would "change immensely the community's perception" of his proposed film, and should persuade San Diegans to accept it.

"We're not making a film about a massacre. We're making a film about how to prevent a massacre," he said.

Still, the outcry over any massacre film continues. In addition to the council's and the chamber's opposition, San Ysidro school and PTA officials oppose Spivey's plans.

Also, local radio station KBZT-FM last week began circulating petitions against the film that are to be given, eventually, to Spivey. In addition to opposing the filming, signers agree to "support an economic boycott" of any products advertised during a television movie on the massacre.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World