Toothpick hanging from his mouth, Dave Salavar sat patiently on a Santa Paula park bench, a strategic spot for watching Wednesday's filming of a new prime-time CBS series, "Angel Falls."
Thirty minutes later, the 56-year-old retired sheet-metal worker finally saw the cameras roll. Across the street at the Santa Paula train depot--now disguised as the "Angel Falls" train depot--a bus pulled up and an actor in a cowboy hat got off. Then somebody yelled, "Cut!"
Salavar was underwhelmed. "That's it?" he asked.
With numerous feature films and TV commercials shot in Santa Paula every year, residents have grown accustomed to the invasion of movie stars, camera crews and production facilities. Once awe-struck but now jaded, they want to be entertained. After all, this is Hollywood.
"I was hoping for a big shoot-'em-up," Salavar said.
Residents like Salavar will have other opportunities to catch the action. Featuring James Brolin and Peggy Lipton, "Angel Falls," a soap opera about a single mother who returns to her Montana hometown and renews old passions, will be filming in Santa Paula regularly. So will another series, NBC's "Against the Grain."
"We're hoping these series have the same effect as 'Northern Exposure,' " Carol Bowker, film liaison for the Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce, said during the first day of shooting Wednesday.
While CBS' "Northern Exposure" brought attention and tourists to tiny Roslyn, Wash., which sat in for the fictional Cicely, Alaska, it also reportedly created hassles for businesses and residents, whose lives were disrupted by the demands of a weekly production.
But Santa Paula is ready, Bowker said. Six years ago, Main Street merchants complained about the disruptive habits and imperious attitude of Hollywood production companies, prompting the chamber to hold a series of meetings with producers and townspeople to iron out the problems.
"You can't make everybody happy," Bowker said. "But we're sure trying."
Aside from paying a daily permit fee of $1,500 to the city, producers must agree to be considerate toward residents and compensate merchants for interfering with business. Every shop owner within 200 yards of the shoot is supposed to get at least $250.
"It adds up," said Flip Wylly, "Angel Falls" location manager. "But I can understand these people. They've been burned by other film companies."
To turn Santa Paula into a small Montana farm town, the company brought in pine trees and gathered beat-up pickup trucks belonging to residents. False fronts are transforming the Unocal Oil Museum into the Redeye Saloon. Parallel parking on Main Street will go diagonal.
"We do make an impact in the area no matter how hard we try not to," Wylly said.
The Chamber of Commerce, which works closely with the California Film Commission, actively pursues Hollywood productions, Bowker said. And it gets them, partly owing to the city's proximity to Los Angeles but also because of its chameleon-like qualities.
"Santa Paula has the small-town charm of Anywhere, USA," said assistant location manager Errol Reichow.
The city of 27,000 is also popular in Hollywood for its old Victorian homes and for something it doesn't have: an abundance of palm trees.
"There aren't many palm trees in Montana," Reichow said.
Besides pumping money into the local economy, Hollywood productions offer residents a chance to break into show business. "Angel Falls" has hired dozens of extras, some veterans of other locally based productions.
"Being an extra is fun," said Carroll Hall, 73, a retired merchant who receives $55 a day, mainly for standing around and waiting. "I was in a 'Matlock' here. It was boring, but you can watch the activity. You normally don't see this much activity in a small town like this."