Getting O.C. a Piece of the 'Action!' : Cristi Silverberg Will Lead the Effort to Give the County a Bigger Role in the Movies

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If your stick-em pads are in color-coded piles on your desk and you hate it when somebody throws you a curve ball and suddenly wants you to find a place to dry-clean 200 pounds of hockey uniforms, and somebody else calls frantic and says, "Oh, by the way, could you find us 200 hotel rooms tonight for our entire film crew because we forgot" . . . well, then, you would not want Cristi Silverberg's job.

As Orange County's director of the newly funded Orange County Film Office, Silverberg spends a lot of time reacting to assorted near-disasters. But now that the county has decided to spend some money to make some money off the movie business, Silverberg should have the time and funds to attract more film productions like "Clear and Present Danger" and "North," summer releases that were shot, in part, locally.

What all this means is that government leaders think such showcasing will put us on the map and bring more tourist dollars, besides the dough spent by film crews at hotels, restaurants, catering companies and the like.

Wooing Hollywood, then, is Orange County's new game plan, and Silverberg will lead the effort.

Last month, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to bankroll a film office that will try attracting more television and motion picture productions to the county, budgeting $242,500 for the next three years. That includes Silverberg's salary and her office space at the Orange County Chamber of Commerce, which will also throw in some funding.

No more sitting back and waiting for the lucky day when the phone rings with Buick on the line wanting help to find a big clean stretch of highway for a car commercial.

Silverberg's job now is to actively court the entertainment industry by marketing the county's potential as a backdrop--and its new willingness to be film-friendly. She will also be aiming to streamline the permit process for film crews by working closely with the county's city governments, starting with a workshop Wednesday at the Waterfront Hilton for city administrators called "Film Production in Your Community."

Every time Orange County is used as a backdrop to a car commercial or a TV movie it means money: permit fees and bed tax to the county or city, and other lodging and food bucks to businesses. In approving the new film office funding, the Board of Supervisors pointed to a county report showing that film crews spent $27 million in San Diego County last year, contrasted with a paltry $200,000 in Orange County.

But nothing that couldn't be quick-changed by a blockbuster series, say Placentia 92670.

Silverberg laughs, but she knows well that a show like "Simon and Simon," with its San Diego Zoo plot lines and La Jolla backdrops, is money in the bank.

For now, she remains completely un-starstruck. On the set of the "Clear and Present Danger," a suspense making its debut next month and starring Harrison Ford and John Wayne Airport, Silverberg almost asked Harrison Ford how to find . . . Harrison Ford.

"I was staring right at him, and I was about five feet away, and I said, 'Gee, I wonder what Harrison Ford looks like in this. Has anyone seen him?' " she says, laughing. "He did seem to get a kick out of that."

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As for movies, she rarely sees anything but animated or Disney--except those with Orange County scenery, of course.

A 32-year-old single mother, she has long but accommodating hours that start at 7:30 a.m. She usually leaves her office in The City shopping center in Orange by 5 p.m. and has an hour to exercise or ride at the stable before picking up her 4-year-old son at preschool.

Up until now, if someone wanted to shoot a commercial or movie in Orange County, they would have to secure permits from each city involved.

"Pick up a phone and call any city to just ask, who do you call? You can spend hours just trying to find that out, and then that person's gonna be on vacation," said Glen Everroad, revenue manager of Newport Beach, whose office handles the city's film permits. Last year, the city hosted 122 days of filming.

"A lot of cities, I think, just don't see the benefit. But there is $4 billion in film dollars leaving the state of California because bureaucrats such as myself can't accommodate their needs. . . . We can turn around a permit some days in 30 minutes, but in (the city of) Orange, they want two weeks still."

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For several years, Silverberg has been working for the county Environmental Management Agency, one of two people handling public relations matters for the director. When the county's public information office was eliminated, its tasks of coordinating with the film industry were turned over to the EMA; it made sense that EMA, which handles public property permits, would absorb the processing of applications by production companies for film permits.

"I personally think she's very competent and really has a love for film," said Kay Smoot, an EMA planner for whom Silverberg briefly worked, "so she really puts her all behind the job."

Initially, that took up only about 10% of her time, Silverberg said. But eventually coordinating with the movie business came to take up the majority of her day.

The benefits, though, seem pretty obvious: a $35,000 salary (her position actually costs the county a total of $61,000 counting benefits) and a lot of fun.

"I get to meet a lot of different people, and there's always variety," she said. "It's always exciting to be on a movie set, but I've never been a person who really got excited about stars."

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Born in Lakewood, she moved with her parents, two brothers and two sisters to Los Alamitos, then later to San Jose, where she graduated from high school and then attended two years at San Jose State. She finished her degree in advertising/communications at Cal State Fullerton.

After a modeling stint during college, Silverberg decided the limelight wasn't for her. She did an internship with an advertising agency that specialized in music industry clients--although her first solo account was a Mexican restaurant in Cypress--and then took a job after college with a landscape architecture firm. Bor-ing.

"I thought I really wanted to be in corporate America," Silverberg said. "After nine months of doing packets and descriptions for bids, a newsletter and a few press releases," she quit to work in corporate marketing for a firm in banking and real estate. The company advertised in the Los Angeles Rams football game program but refused to allow ad copy writers to use any sports metaphors--'let us drive your investments to the goal line,' that sort of thing. They were so conservative, Silverberg's said, that her big feat was getting them to change the color of their lettered ad copy. After three months, she quit.

Her next job was more colorful: director of group sales for singer Bill Medley's nightclubs, called the Hop. All but one have since been sold, and that one is now called Music City, in Fountain Valley.

"It was a really fun job, a really good place to be," Silverberg said. But then came the bar mitzvah from hell. Seems the chef for a large party that day was very ill, should have gone home really, Silverberg said. But he didn't, and instead was constantly interrupted by bouts of nausea, making the bar mitzvah lunch 30 minutes late. The boy's mother was furious and threatened to sue Medley, who decided he'd had enough with that hassle and stopped the large-group end of the business. Hence, Silverberg's job was eliminated.

For the next three years she worked as a cocktail waitress at the Hop. She also worked as catering and convention services manager at the Anaheim Sheraton but eventually quit both to work for the county EMA.

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Silverberg says she has no interest in performing before the camera, and none of her friends or family even hit her up for bit parts, an introduction to Mr. Stallone, a "can't you just show him my script?"--nothing.

Silverberg does enjoy following the process of how a television ad or a movie is created, how all the scattered parts come together.

"When they were filming 'Clear and Present Danger' at John Wayne Airport, I watched them do the same scene over and over for two hours," she said. "They were at the luggage carousel, and the luggage comes down and Harrison Ford would pick up the luggage, look around--in this movie he's being chased by a sniper--and then he would walk away and they'd yell cut. Over and over they did it. The makeup man would keep running over and combing (Ford's) hair--how could it move in that time?"

Her marketing efforts will be ongoing, but her typical day involves constant phone work. She works mostly with location managers and producers, who seek her help in finding a certain spot to shoot this car chase or that helicopter landing, help in getting quick permits from cities, working out problems like not being able to shoot, say, a freeway, when they want to.

Generally Silverberg has about 72 hours notice for television shoots, a bit more for feature films. Sometimes, it's less. Sometimes the problems are not so little.

When "Mighty Ducks II" was filming in Anaheim, someone from the crew realized--at the last minute, natch--that they had hockey uniforms and costumes and no place to clean them.

"Yeah, 'Mighty Ducks II' needed someone who could launder 200 pounds a day for 14 days, and we didn't have anyone," Silverberg said. "I was finally able to convince a uniform company in Irvine that they should bring staff on for it. I felt pretty good about that."

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Then there was the January filming here of the movie based on Tom Clancy's novel.

"With 'Clear and Present Danger,' the crew called the afternoon of their first day of filming, saying they'd forgot to book hotel rooms," Silverberg recalls, like it was no big deal at all. Fortunately, she added, "I found the Radisson hotel right across the street from John Wayne Airport that was nearly empty," and it was $15,000 a day richer for the duration of the shoot.

Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley is probably the most popular filming location in the county because there is a huge airfield the county purchased from the military that has lent itself to a weird variety of shoots. Buick filmed an anniversary commercial there with 60-foot-high candles ringing a big painted logo. Goodyear did a commercial there for this past Super Bowl in which water-skiers pulled by a car were filmed on the park's airfield, which had been rigged to hold a thin layer of water, Silverberg said. "Defending Your Life," starring Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep, also was filmed there.

Her first extensive involvement with a film came last year with "Demolition Man," which starred Sylvester Stallone and parts of Irvine and the Fluor Corp. tower. Still, she never made it down to the set.

Commercials are still the main kind of filming done in Orange County, and some of it Silverberg doesn't learn about until after the fact.

" 'Star Trek IV' was shot at McDonnell Douglas," she says laughing, "and they were just hidden there the whole time. I didn't even know they were here. I guess that means they didn't have any problems."

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