Fillmore would have welcomed film crews in its business district with open arms, but its palms got in the way.
The city was perfect as a backdrop for a TV pilot set in a small Oklahoma town--except for the majestic King palms lining Central Avenue, producers of "The Outsiders" told Fillmore officials recently.
Location consultant C. Robert Holloway spent two days considering ways to make the distinctive trees disappear. He rejected disguising them in ersatz oak bark, as he has on other locations, and moved his shoot to Santa Paula--where palms are confined, for the most part, to Palm Street.
"We were heartbroken," said Holloway, a veteran location-finder for 87 films. "We talked about parking trucks in front of the trees, or shooting around them. There was no way."
Other movie companies requiring a small town with a Midwestern feel have also been drawn to Fillmore, only to be stymied by its quintessentially Californian trees.
"If you know Southern California, you go other places besides Fillmore," said Lou Goldstein, head of locations for Columbia Pictures' television division. "There are other small towns nearby. If we had to go East every time we had an Eastern location, we'd be East all the time."
Steps to Avoid Palms
Although the California Film Commission, which promotes filming in California, shrugs off palms as a big problem, some production crews have taken big steps to avoid them.
When ABC used Bellflower for scenes in "The Jessica McClure Story," Holloway's firm had to obtain residents' permission to harvest oranges and lemons, rendering the trees in the background "ND"--the industry term for nondescript, said Michael Parks, location manager.
Palms in Los Angeles' MacArthur Park have been wrapped with fake oak bark and hung with branches to create the ambience of New York's Central Park, he said.
And palms reared their anything-but-nondescript fronds again during the filming of "Baby M" in Glendale, where an Armenian church was transformed into a Bergen County, N.J., courthouse. For one day of filming, two palms were removed, replaced with "ND" trees, and replanted at the end of the shoot, Parks said.
But the palms of Fillmore were too numerous to disguise. "If those trees weren't there, we could turn Fillmore into a back lot," Holloway said. "Fillmore would do the film industry a tremendous favor by letting them buy up those palms and replace them with something less Southern Californian."
'Major Hot Issue'
Not all of Fillmore's citizens are inclined to cooperate. City Clerk Noreen Withers said the trees are "a major hot issue, right up there with politics and abortion."
City Councilman Roger Campbell said he doubted that movie companies would spend enough in Fillmore to help business or jeopardize the palms. 'If the movie companies would give a million to the city, I'd say go ahead and cut the palms down," he said. "But that's a non-negotiable price--and there's no guarantee we wouldn't replant them."
Gary Creagle, the former Fillmore mayor who runs the "Up In Arms" gun shop on Central Avenue, was less enthusiastic about the trees.
"I don't like the palms," he said. "They drop those little pods, and little old ladies slip and fall, and I have to help them up. The mess we can clean up; lawsuits take longer. I'd like to see those palms gone."
That statement might cheer Holloway, who laments: "I wish the town would come to its senses and plant some elm trees, or some oaks. As location-finders, palm trees are our nemesis."