Renting Your Car to Hollywood : Show business: Film production companies will pay to borrow vehicles for commercials, movies and TV shows. But brokers caution it’s no way to get rich.


When you go to the movies or watch an action-packed television show, you probably notice the actors first, or the story line or the phenomenal special effects.

But you may not notice the cars grinding along in a simulated rush hour traffic scene, the hundreds of parked cars lining a downtown Los Angeles street or the vintage cars used for a film that is set in the 1930s.

Every day, hundreds of vehicles are loaned or rented to production companies to make commercials, feature films and television shows. And motion picture transportation coordinators, transportation dispatchers and car locaters say they work around the clock tracking them down.


According to Glen Parrino, transportation dispatcher for Universal Television in Universal City, his company is the only television studio with its own motion-picture car department.

“I have photo albums of cars dating from the early 1900s to 1990 sent by car owners who want us to rent their cars. I also deal with car brokers,” he said.

One such car broker is Laurel Rosenberg, owner of Laurel’s Motion Picture Car Locators. Rosenberg, 37, is the only woman to own one of the six car location companies in the San Fernando Valley, according to Parrino.

The Canoga Park woman acts as the agent for car owners, representing them to television and film production companies. She says that in the year since she began, she has signed up more than 1,000 cars and estimates that 600 of them have “worked” so far.

A 16-year stint in front of the camera as a bit actress and stuntwoman led Rosenberg to working behind the scenes. A car and motorcycle enthusiast who rides a Harley-Davidson, she wasn’t working as much as she wanted, “and frankly, I wasn’t that good an actress.”

“I became friends with a studio transportation coordinator who kept telling me that my love of cars made me a natural for car locating,” she said. By going to car shows, she assembled a list of clients and a photo album to show to studio transportation bosses.


She scored on her first try.

In July, 1990, Parrino was searching for a vehicle for the NBC series “Quantum Leap.” He chose an old, beat-up farm tractor from Rosenberg’s album.

Soon after that transaction, she received an urgent call from Parrino, who was looking for two matching “Christine” cars. (In the industry, a 1958 red-and-white Plymouth Belvedere is a “Christine,” so named for the film based on the Stephen King thriller about a car with a penchant for murder.)

Within hours, Rosenberg delivered the cars, Parrino said.

Soon she was a staple on the Universal lot, placing additional cars in “Quantum Leap,” “Amen,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “Columbo.” At Warner Bros., she has furnished dozens of cars for the CBS series “The Flash.”

Rosenberg finds many of her clients, such as Jim Moran of Canoga Park, at weekend vintage car rallies.

Moran’s ivory-and-navy-blue 1936 Buick coupe was featured in the recent CBS television movie “Lucy and Desi: Before the Laughter,” with actor Maurice Bernard as Desi behind the wheel.

His car had worked in the 1990 NBC miniseries “Lucky Chances” and in the 1988 feature film “Bird,” but this was the first time his car was featured, Moran said.


A featured vehicle, driven by the lead actor or otherwise prominently displayed, is paid about $200 a day, or twice as much as one that remains parked or is driven in the background.

Specialty vehicles, such as a 1933 Dusenberg, command $550 to $1,000 a day. Nondescript vehicles--Volkswagens or cars made during the 1970s and ‘80s--earn about $75 a day. Vehicles that are parked in the background or used in drive-by scenes are paid $75 to $100 a day, according to car locaters.

“Rates are usually set by the dollar value of a car, its rarity and a show’s budget,” Rosenberg said. “Commercials and feature films have a bigger budget than television, so they pay about twice as much.”

Cars that work steadily on a series remain indefinitely on a studio lot and are sometimes shifted from series to series. Typically, car owners are paid for each day of shooting in which their car is used. Others are paid a flat monthly rate.

“In a hit series a car may work for six years. When that happens, you’re talking about a steady paycheck,” Rosenberg said.

Vintage vehicle owners such as Moran say pride, not money, is the motive.

“It’s real exciting to see my cars on the screen. I do all the restoration work on my cars myself,” said Moran, who owns two other vintage Buicks. “And it’s really a thrill when somebody like Clint Eastwood admires your car.”


Joe Bua, 79, and his wife of 54 years, Stella, are retired, but the Glendale couple are anything but sedentary.

In 1983, Bua was waiting at a local garage for his 1941 Cadillac to be repaired. He saw a film crew shooting a movie, and, noticing that vintage cars were being used, he asked if they wanted to use his car.

Since then, his cars have appeared in McDonald’s fast-food commercials on television and in films. His 1941 Cadillac appeared in “The Two Jakes” and his 1970 dusty rose Toronado was used in Robert Townsend’s upcoming film “The Five Heartbeats.” Bua also rents out his 1955 Packard and 1955 Studebaker President Speedster.

The Buas have expanded their circle of friends just by sitting around waiting for filming to begin.

“Oh boy, there’s a lot of waiting. In fact, it’s mostly about waiting. Sometimes the director will film one three-second shot for hours,” Bua said with a laugh. “So you get to know other people with cars on the set. That has led us to get involved in parades and car shows.”

Bua said he cuts down on potential damage to his cars by staying with them. He drives his cars in a scene whenever possible and earns an extra $40. “And I have it in each contract exactly how, and under what conditions, the car will be used. And of course the studios carry liability insurance,” he said.


But accidents can happen, warned Robert (Benjie) Benjamin, an independent driver coordinator now working for Warner Bros. in Burbank on “The Flash,” which currently airs on CBS.

“We used over 150 cars in the two-hour pilot alone. We probably use thousands of cars in a year, and we’ve had a few accidents,” he said.

Benjamin warns car owners against fly-by-night production companies and disreputable car brokers. “Make sure anyone you deal with has references and a good reputation. There are people out there who will misrepresent how they are going to use your car, and if you aren’t careful you could see your car sliding sideways down a street.”

Rosenberg said car owners protect themselves by using a reputable broker because the broker knows which production companies are legitimate. “They know what to look for in a contract, they have established contacts, and they know exactly what kind of cars shows are looking for,” she said. For her services, she charges the car owner 25% of the rental fee.

Benjamin, whose photo album contains hundreds of photographs sent to him by car owners, receives a steady stream of inquiries. However, he is leery of dealing directly with car owners.

Benjamin prefers to deal with companies that broker cars rather than individual owners who are often over-protective of their vehicles. “Most of these people are proud of their cars, and rightly so. They enter them in contests, drive them in parades. These cars are like children to them.”


Benjamin also uses cars from automobile manufacturers such as Ford, Chevrolet or Pontiac who loan their cars in exchange for the vehicles being shown on film. A custom car manufacturer, Wilmington-based Vector Cars, loaned Benjamin a $2-million prototype car for a futuristic episode of “The Flash.”

Transportation coordinators view their relationship with auto manufacturers as vital to their business, according to Benjamin. “We couldn’t exist without them.”

Production companies also rely heavily on motion picture car suppliers such as Ken Fritz, whose company, Studio Picture Vehicles, has been around for 17 years.

Although Fritz occasionally acts as a broker, he typically furnishes vehicles from his collection. The cars have appeared in hundreds of films, including the original “Die Hard” (1988), “Beverly Hills Cop” (1984), “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987) and “Look Who’s Talking” (1989). Six hundred-fifty vehicles--firetrucks, police cars, ambulances, hearses, trash trucks, street sweepers and vintage cars--sit bumper-to-bumper on his 2.5-acre Sun Valley lot.

“For every car we have, we also have at least two or three identical cars for use in exterior and interior shots,” Fritz said.

In an action series or feature film, several matching cars are required. Paint color and even dents must be perfectly matched.


The NBC series “Hunter” uses five matching cars from Fritz’s collection for star Fred Dryer’s detective car. The various cars serve different purposes--they are for sitting in and reciting dialogue, exterior scenes or stunts.

Fritz reports that 204 of his vehicles were intentionally totaled in 1990 by fire, explosives or car crashes.

“I always tell people, if you really love your car, don’t rent it to me,” he said with a chuckle.

Glen Parrino believes that most car owners go into the business thinking they will end up rich by renting their cars to the movies.

But Joe Bua is a seasoned pro who knows better and insists that the only good reason to do it is for fun. “By the time you pay for a car’s upkeep, inside and out, and storage fees, you don’t make that much money. For retired people, it’s great. It gives us something to do, but most working people can’t manage it.”

Parrino says: “People read about all the millions it takes to make a movie and they assume that we have the budget to pay them thousands a day for their car.”


The point is illustrated by a recent call he received from a star-struck Denver man.

“He has a couple of vintage cars and wanted to get them in the business. He was ready to quit his job, pack up and move to L.A. He had visions of becoming rich.”

Parrino issued a strong warning and told him not to quit his job.