Rain Man : Hoffman, Film Crew Get Soaked During Piru Creek Movie Shoot

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A torrential rainfall poured down on the staged plane wreck in Piru Creek on Tuesday night, soaking actor Dustin Hoffman and the victims he struggled to rescue.

Wet suits worn beneath their clothing did little to repel the 1,000 gallons of water a minute falling into the creek from 80-foot sprinklers suspended overhead by cranes.

Hoffman, who wrapped a white towel around his drenched head between early shoots, recalled the filming of an earlier movie set in the Middle East.

"What is this? 'Ishtar II?' " Hoffman said of his mock turban.

Not since the March storms has it rained in drought-stricken Ventura County as hard as it has since filming began Monday night on "Hero," a comedy starring Hoffman, Geena Davis and Andy Garcia.

A cloak of darkness hid the nearby mountains, supporting the illusion that the plane crashed in the flatlands outside Chicago.

"We were going to have the mountains taken down," publicist Saul Kahan said.

More than 100 crew and cast members gathered at the abandoned Center Street bridge for the overnight shootings, which are scheduled to run through at least Thursday night.

As a waterlogged Hoffman forged the swollen creek during repeated takes Tuesday night, producer Laura Ziskin bemoaned the travails of the location shoot.

"It's a nightmare," Ziskin said. "Any time you have multiple elements--rain, smoke, fire and actors--you just hope it comes together for each shot."

Davis look-alike Michelle Noren ate a bowl of chili while waiting to hear if she would have to stand in for the movie's female lead in the rain. She had already been dragged from the plane during scenes filmed at Sony Studios in Culver City.

"At least they haven't given me a wet suit yet," Noren said. "They have a stunt girl and, hopefully, they're going to use her."

Ventura County firefighter Mike Jenkins played rummy in the extras tent with firefighters Scott Gould and Larry Rice while awaiting his curtain call Monday night. The three got the $42-a-day jobs after turning out for an extras call at Piru School last week.

"I guess they'll have us pulling some hose and bandaging people up," said Jenkins, 24, of Camarillo.

"I'm just amazed how much energy goes into filming a few scenes," said Gould, 33, of Simi Valley, as he dined with other cast members on a 10 p.m. catered meal of chateaubriand, blackened salmon, veal cannelloni and broiled lobster tails.

Chloe Jenson, 7 months old, slept nestled against her nanny's shoulder near the mobile dressing rooms, resting up for her role. Chloe, daughter of stunt coordinator Gary Jenson, was handed from the plane into the arms of a firefighter.

"She's a very happy baby, so we have to give her a bottle and take it away again to make her cry," nanny Laura Thurlow said.

In the movie, scheduled for release late next year, Hoffman plays a petty crook who stumbles upon the plane wreck and frees the crew and passengers just before the jet explodes.

Hoffman remains an anonymous hero because his criminal activities make him unable to accept credit. Drifter Garcia picks up Hoffman hitchhiking from the wreckage, hears his rescue tale and later steps forward to claim a $1-million reward. TV reporter Davis, one of the passengers, sets out to uncover the real story.

Columbia Pictures spent nearly $400,000 to set up the crash site with a disabled jet obtained from a Mojave Desert aircraft graveyard, Production Designer Dennis Gassner said.

The studio also had to go through "5 1/2 months of loops" to get permission to dam the dry creek, pump in water and create the appearance of a flowing river alongside the wreckage, Gassner said.

Actress Cady Huffman took a sabbatical from her Tony-nominated role in "Will Rogers Follies" to play a flight attendant in her first movie. Tuesday night, she stood on the banks of the creek preparing for her next call.

"Every time before we shoot, I have to stand in the rain and make sure I get a good sopping," the Santa Barbara native said. "It's a lot different from being on Broadway."

Dianne French, a professional extra from Los Angeles, was one of the 54 passengers pulled from the wreck. Made up to look bruised and bloodied, French said it is the most strenuous role she has ever had.

"I've never done anything this physically demanding before," said French, recalling her role as a secretary in the movie "Ghost." "That was office work compared to this."

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