Hospital Becomes Set in TV Special

Times Staff Writer

When ABC televises "No Greater Love," an after-school special scheduled for Sept. 18, viewers will see the poignant tale of two 13-year-old boys, one with a brain tumor, the other with kidney problems, who become friends in the pediatric ward of a hospital.

The program was filmed almost entirely at St. Luke of Pasadena, a 167-bed hospital in northeast Pasadena.

What viewers won't see is the more than 50 people involved in moving cables and other equipment around during the four 12-hour days it took to film the special.

They also won't see the police officer, fire marshal and public relations representative who were required to be on the set at all times.

While the demand for hospitals as sets by production companies is not extensive, it can be lucrative. And it can cause major disruptions in hospital routines.

As a rule, St. Luke charges production companies $250 an hour to use the hospital for filming, according to spokeswoman Maureen Hughes. In the case of "No Greater Love," the cost will be negotiated downward because of the length of the filming.

The filming at St. Luke was unusual because it involved nearly the entire program, rather than just a few scenes.

"We chose St. Luke because it had an entire floor vacant, so we could do most of our shooting out of working areas," said producer Fern Field.

"We were also looking for a small community hospital and St. Luke fit the image. We picked it because it was the right looking place and the right set of circumstances.

"But hospital shooting is always a gamble because we never know when there might be an emergency and we would have to stop shooting."

Lisa Rawlins, head of the state Department of Commerce's California Film Office said that many hospitals make ideal settings for films. But some hospitals turn down requests because crews get in the way of doctors, patients and visitors, seriously upsetting hospital procedures.

Rawlins added that filming at private hospitals does not involve the many permits required to film on location at public settings.

"The main red tape is fire safety regulations," she said. "The Fire Department has to know that people can be evacuated in case of fire.

"Generally, producers look for atmosphere and feasibility rather than a hospital that can be identified by viewers."

An informal survey showed that San Gabriel Valley hospital administrators have mixed feelings about filming on their premises.

Said one spokesman who asked not to be identified, "I feel the hassle is not worth the money we make."

One such hospital is Huntington Memorial of Pasadena, which does not allow either indoor or outdoor filming.

"We don't have the people to supervise the hours of filming; it is disruptive to the patients because we have no empty units, and parking is a problem here," said spokeswoman Kay Murphy.

"It doesn't work for the hospital in any way and is an inconvenience to patients, visitors and employees," she said.

"We did have filming here once. It was a TV series called "Lifeline" and it was about a day in the life of a doctor. The crew had to follow the doctor around and it was a hassle. On the other hand, that program was beneficial to the health-care industry and the practice of medicine. But for the most part it is not in the best interest of the hospital to do it."

By contrast, Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina not only allows filming but also lets producers use its facilities for free, provided the filming does not interfere with hospital activities, said spokeswoman Mary Ann Harvey.

"Occasionally we get calls and we don't discourage it if it fits into our schedule," she said. "But it takes hours to film a brief shot.

"It's a matter of personality--if we like the producers and they need us at a time when the hospital is not too busy, then we are willing to do it. It depends on whether it is going to interfere with patient care."

Inter-Community Medical Center in Covina is not averse to filming if the crew is not disruptive, said spokeswoman Rosemary Cruit. The hospital charges $200 an hour with a 12-hour minimum, so it receives at least $2,400 for any shooting.

"This is more involved than most people realize," Cruit said. "The Fire Department is involved, security is involved, there are the logistics of where the crew is going to park and how they will enter and exit.

"Sometimes we can't accommodate them because we don't have what they want, such as accessibility of a vacant patient room," she said.

"But a plus is that it is a touch of drama in an ordinary day."

However, Marilyn Morrison of Methodist Hospital of Southern California in Arcadia does not consider the added drama a plus.

"We had a film crew shooting outdoors once and when I looked up, everybody in the hospital, including employees and patients, was leaning out the windows," she said. "It was disconcerting."

Morrison said construction projects now under way at Methodist Hospital present special obstacles to filming at that location.

"When they bring in their own generating system with the cables it is a problem," she said. "Our corridors and lobbies are out. But outdoor scenes are simpler and shooting with a portable camera is OK."

Methodist negotiates the price based on how much of the facility is used, she said.

"We don't charge for community service or educational programs," she said.

"For commercial programs our daily rate depends on the amount of anticipated interruption and the extent of our facilities they are using."

Sometimes it is some aspect of the facility, rather than the fact that it is a hospital, that producers are seeking.

Two scenes of the film "Hometown USA" were shot at Inter-Community, not because it was a hospital but because the producers needed a board room with a large oval table. Inter-Community happened to have such a board room, Cruit said. And Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina was approached--and rejected--by a producer who needed a morgue scene.

"He didn't like our morgue," said hospital spokeswoman Harvey.

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