Simi Balks at Plan to Shut Freeway for Stallone Film

Times Staff Writers

The Simi Valley Freeway may soon become Rocky Road--but not without a fight from local officials.

The Simi Valley City Council voiced strong opposition Thursday to a proposal by Cannon Films to close a three-mile stretch of the 118 freeway between Simi Valley and Moorpark during four consecutive weekdays this month for filming of a Sylvester Stallone movie, "Over The Top."

The state Department of Transportation and the California Film Office have given tentative approval to what would be the first such rush-hour closure of a freeway in the state.

Approval Sought

Caltrans officials said, however, that they also want the approval of Moorpark and Simi Valley, the communities that would be most affected, although such approval is not required.

The film company wants to use the Simi Valley Freeway for "high-precision trucking stunts," a state official said, for the movie in which Stallone plays a truck driver who tries to win back the love of his son and win the world arm-wrestling championship.

Cannon Films would not pay the state for use of the road.

"This would cause too much of a major disruption, and it's too much to ask of this community," Simi Valley Mayor Elton Gallegly said during a special Thursday evening session of the council.

Gallegly said he has supported various filming projects around Simi Valley at night, "but this time, there would just be a giant problem for commuters and students of Moorpark College if we allow it."

Council members said they will vote on the issue Monday and hope a less disruptive plan will be worked out by then.

The Moorpark City Council also is scheduled to vote on the proposal Monday, Mayor James D. Weak said.

Kathleen Milnes, deputy director of the California Film Office, a state agency that issues permits for filming on state property, appealed to the Simi Valley council to allow the shooting. She called use of the freeway a show of support for the movie industry, which she said increasingly has been filming outside California.

Milnes said her agency and Cannon Films "are under no statutory obligation to get your approval, but we would like to get your approval. We would like you to become our partner."

Her request drew a stern reply from Gallegly. "We may not have the final word in this, but I can assure this young lady that our voice will be heard, loud and strong," he said.

Under Cannon's current shooting schedule, the freeway would be closed from Madera Road in Simi Valley to to College View Avenue in Moorpark, either for four days between June 18 and 27 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. or for eight days during unspecified non-peak traffic hours, Milnes said. The most likely filming days would be June 19, 20, 23 and 24, she said.

Milnes said her office erected signs along the freeway Monday warning motorists that all lanes of the freeway will be closed from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on those days. "We wanted to warn everyone . . . at least 10 days in advance," she said.

Milnes said all-day filming is preferable because filming on weekends would double the labor costs, and working only during non-peak traffic hours would mean more shooting days on the freeway, putting the production schedule in jeopardy.

Vincent Thomas Bridge

The only other part of a state highway to have been closed for filming was the Vincent Thomas Bridge in the Terminal Island area. It was closed for two weekends in 1983 for shooting of an elaborate chase scene in "To Live and Die In L.A." It was also closed to traffic for one night in January, 1986, for filming of Stallone's current film, "Cobra," and for one night in May for "Blind Date," a film directed by Blake Edwards.

Don Potz, location manager for "Over The Top," said he looked at about nine highways around California before deciding on the Simi Valley Freeway. The company had been looking for a road with "a nondescript appearance," he said.

"This had all the right elements, and Caltrans led us to believe that this would be the most conducive for our purposes and the easiest to work with."

State officials said 18,000 vehicles use that stretch of the freeway daily.

Detour Route

While the freeway is closed, motorists traveling east would exit the freeway at College View Avenue, travel south to easterly Los Angeles Avenue, which becomes Easy Street, take Easy Street to Madera Road, and drive north to the freeway on-ramp, where they could enter again.

After the council's complaints, Milnes and Cannon representatives said they would consider alternative filming plans, which may include filming on one side of the freeway during peak traffic hours or reducing the hours of filming.

"I'm sure we will be able to work something out," Milnes said.

"This film was not going to film at all in California because of the amount of road work," Milnes said. "We've been losing most of the road shows to other states, which routinely close their freeways for film makers. We do not have a lock on this industry."

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