The County’s Star Quality : Movies: Hollywood production companies love the area’s cities, hillsides and beaches for shooting on location.
Bob Smith is an easygoing fellow from Santa Paula with little interest in Hollywood glitz. But that has not stopped movie moguls from turning up on his doorstep.
Smith lives in a quaint Victorian-style home in a neighborhood that looks as if it had been transplanted from the Midwest. Movie makers love it. Why go to Kansas to film when Santa Paula is a short drive away?
Smith’s house on tree-lined Santa Paula Street has been featured in dozens of movies, commercials and television shows. Recently, it’s been used for commercials for Anderson Windows and NutraSweet and a music video for the group Alabama.
In October, the front lawn was strewn with toilet paper for a scene in the television movie “Crazy From the Heart,” a love story that takes place in a small Texas town. And last week, the entryway of the house was filmed for a Carolina Power & Light Co. commercial.
“One time they put fake snow all over the front yard,” Smith said of another production crew. “It really looked like winter. It’s all an illusion. Movies are that way.”
Indeed. Since Hollywood directors began yelling, “Roll ‘em!” Ventura County hillsides, communities, lakes and beaches have been used to depict places around the globe. A few spots have even masqueraded as outer- space locales.
For eight years, the “Little House on the Prairie” series--based on the life of a Minnesota family--was filmed at Big Sky Movie Ranch in the hills north of Simi Valley. The producers of “Gunsmoke” used the Wildwood area near Thousand Oaks as their Dodge City, Kan. And the hills of Ojai can be seen in the movie “Lost Horizon.”
Scenes from “China Beach” and “Tour of Duty"--television shows about the Vietnam War--have been filmed at Leo Carrillo State Beach and areas around Oxnard.
“Lassie Come Home” was filmed in Hidden Valley, known for its uncanny resemblance to Kentucky. And Lake Sherwood was named after the Sherwood Forest in “Robin Hood,” which was filmed in the area in the 1920s. The area around the lake also was the setting for the early “Tarzan” movies where vines were tied to the large oak trees.
Early on, residents tried to capitalize on the movie-making frenzy. Small movie ranches sprang up across eastern Ventura County. One family even trained a herd of cattle to stampede through a set on cue, said Cathy Powers, director of special collections at the Thousand Oaks Library.
“Those cows became quite good actors,” she said.
Powers said some of her fondest childhood memories include the times that she and her friends rode their horses in front of the wooden facades used in “The Virginian,” also filmed in the Thousand Oaks area.
Production companies are constantly searching for places to film outside Los Angeles, said Pat Bentley, location manager for “Crazy From the Heart,” the Turner Network Television movie staring Christine Lahti and Ruben Blades.
“People in Los Angeles are really burnt out on filming,” she said. And besides, she added, the city is crowded, dirty and expensive. Ventura County provides a nice change.
Last year, the Ventura City Hall--known in Hollywood for its historic appeal--was used in the filming of courthouse scenes in “The Two Jakes,” a sequel to “Chinatown” starring Jack Nicholson.
And Santa Paula was the hometown for the recently released movie “Welcome Home Roxie Carmichael,” starring Winona Ryder. The city has been used in such films as “Three Fugitives,” a recently filmed Disney movie called “Appearances,” and “Carrie.”
The Faulkner House in Santa Paula, an 18-room Victorian-style mansion and a county historical landmark, has appeared nearly 100 times in TV and motion pictures.
Earlier this fall, a production company finished filming portions of “The Howling VI” near Lake Piru. Scenes from the previous “Howling” movies also were filmed in the area.
The Big Sky Movie Ranch, the only one of its kind remaining in the county, was the location for the African castle in “Coming to America,” starring Eddie Murphy, and the Australian village in “The Thorn Birds.”
In some cases, movies can be lucrative for a community. For example, “The Two Jakes” brought in an estimated $44,000 in fees to the city of Ventura. And Touchstone Films said it spent $72,000 in Santa Paula during three days of filming “Three Fugitives.”
As a result, some city and county officials are trying to find ways to lure movie producers.
Ventura County officials are drafting an ordinance that would make it easier to obtain film permits.
“We want to keep it simple, that’s our goal,” said Kathy King, a senior administrative analyst for the county.
County officials are considering designating one staff member to handle film permits, as other counties already have done. The county receives two requests for such permits each week.
Oxnard officials estimate that the community receives about $25,000 a day for each day of filming. Linda Guillis, Oxnard’s economic development officer, said much of that money is spent on food, hotel rooms, gasoline and other locally supplied items.
Guillis said she prepared a flyer for the California Film Commission promoting various locations around the city: the train station, the beach, the Union Bank Building and the Mandalay Beach Resort.
And her efforts have paid off.
Recently, a large segment of a recently broadcast TV show about Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker was filmed at the resort, which was touted as the couple’s mansion.
A portion of “Highlander 2,” a science-fiction movie about immortal extraterrestrials from a planet called Zeist, was filmed on the beach, Guillis said.
And a drag-race scene from “Back to the Future III,” with Michael J. Fox, was filmed on Dorris Avenue and Ventura Road.
Despite Hollywood’s fondness for filming in Ventura County, not everyone welcomes movie and TV crews with open arms.
Merchants along Main Street in Santa Paula complain that the crews block traffic with their big trailers and sometimes fail to compensate local businesses adequately for lost business.
Richard Taylor, owner of an optical store on Main Street, said his business suffered during the filming of “Crazy From the Heart.”
“I have a lot of elderly customers, and most won’t even bother to stop with this going on,” he said later.
Officials in Ojai, where “The Bionic Woman” series once was filmed, say they want nothing to do with production companies.
“This is a very small community . . . and we were getting a lot of complaints that the movie making was disrupting business,” Mayor Nina Shelley said.
As a result, Ojai passed an ordinance that requires production-company representatives to appear at council meetings to discuss a movie’s content and whether making the film might be disruptive.
Lately, no production companies have even bothered to ask for permission to film, Shelley said.
Ventura officials also were miffed last year after several weeks of filming ended for “The Two Jakes” at City Hall.
Then-mayor James Monahan said at the time that the film’s crew left a dirty carpet and a claim that the city had overcharged it.
Officials also were rebuffed initially in attempts to present Jack Nicholson with a key to the city. The film’s producer reportedly told them that “we don’t accept that kind of crap,” Monahan said. Nicholson eventually accepted the key through a secretary.
But now, city officials speak kindly of the crew and say they enjoyed the glamour of having a movie filmed in council chambers.
Arlian Smith, 76, said he likes to look on the bright side of movie productions. He lives across the street from Bob Smith in Santa Paula and has spent many afternoons watching the film crews in the neighborhood.
The crews can be disruptive, but, he said, “Now I don’t have to go to the movies.
“I can just watch them from my front porch.”
SHOT IN THE COUNTY MOVIES
“Back to the Future III”
“The Cincinnati Kid”
“Coming to America”
“Crazy From the Heart”
“The Howling VI”
“Lassie Come Home”
“The Two Jakes”
“The Bionic Woman”
“Little House on the Prairie”
“The Thorn Birds”
“Tour of Duty”