Movie Moolah : Orange County Communities Experience the Growing Profit--and Pain--of Hosting Hollywood TV and Film Crews
On a recent Sunday, police barricades brought traffic--and shopping--to a halt on what is usually the busiest day of the week for the little antique stores clustered around the Orange Plaza park.
A hostage situation? Traffic accident? No, it was simply the filming of a Toyota commercial.
Hours of empty sidewalks and stores have left merchants in an uproar. They complain that customers couldn’t get to their businesses, resulting in the collective loss of thousands of dollars in potential sales.
Orange’s experience highlights the growing unease of living with film production as the county steps up efforts to lure Hollywood producers to shoot on location here.
“At this point, there is no question there is disruption in some quarters,” said county Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, who took the lead in creating an Orange County Film Office. “But when they produce here, they spend money here,” and disruptions are minor compared to the huge economic benefits of filming on location.
For years, Hollywood has taken over buildings and streets in Los Angeles. Local businesses delight as the film crews lavish tens of thousands of dollars on equipment rentals, food and accommodations, but neighbors can recoil once the glitter wears away.
Orange County has had its share of film experience--though not nearly as much as county officials would like. The county has served as host for portions of numerous movies, from Cecil B. DeMille’s silent version of “The Ten Commandments,” to the current box office smash “Clear and Present Danger.”
Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise shuffled through the Santa Ana Train Station at the conclusion of “Rain Man.” Emilio Estevez perfected his team’s slap shot in “Mighty Ducks II” at The Pond of Anaheim. Sean Connery as James Bond destroyed an offshore drilling rig in the 1971 spy flick “Diamonds Are Forever.”
Without really trying, Orange County was second in film industry expenditures among California counties in 1992, the year in which the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers trade group conducted a study of the issue.
But it was a pittance by comparison: nearly $15 billion in payroll and spending by the industry in Los Angeles County compared to $216 million in Orange County. And those Orange County figures included salaries of workers who merely live here but work in Hollywood.
No one is quite sure of how much money was spent by Hollywood producers shooting on location in Orange County. That amount, too, is small compared to the amount spent in Los Angeles because of the work rules that govern film production.
On major pictures, unions have a rule that makes their members eligible for overnight stays or bus transportation for jobs farther than 30 miles from Hollywood. Only the northern edge of Orange County--from Seal Beach to Fullerton--is within the circle.
Cost, however, does not explain it all. The county has never actively solicited relationships with Hollywood until now, and misunderstanding has been allowed to grow on both sides.
“They think we’re a bunch of snobbish Republicans, or Disneyland, or orange groves,” said Cristi Silverberg, the director of the new Orange County Film Office.
Making matters worse, each of Orange County’s 31 cities has different requirements for film permits. While Newport Beach can sometimes process applications in less than an hour and charges $200 a day to film, Mission Viejo requests a 30-day advance notice and charges $500 a day.
Silverberg said she hopes to standardize the process with a one-stop center or by encouraging cities to charge the same fees.
San Diego, which is cited as a model of film friendliness by Vasquez, abolished its fees and now only requires basic information about where and what a crew is filming.
“We didn’t streamline the permit system. We said we weren’t going to have permits,” said Wally Schlotter, the city’s film commissioner.
The result was a near 50-fold increase, over 15 years, in the amount of spending by film crews in the city to about $31 million in 1993. San Diego is home to two syndicated television series--"Silk Stalkings,” and “Renegade,” with Lorenzo Lamas.
“When Sea World sent out a questionnaire asking visitors why they came to see the marine amusement park a few years back, it was surprised to see how many checked the box marked other,” Schlotter said.
“Other” turned out to be viewers of “Simon and Simon,” the since-canceled network version of the San Diego-based television detective show in which star Jameson Parker receives a wet smooch from a killer whale in the opening credits.
Just as important as bringing film and television crews to San Diego, Schlotter said he sees his role as keeping tabs on them while they are there.
“Given the chance, they will break the rules--get the shot, and leave town,” he said.
Newport Beach discovered that dilemma the hard way in 1986. A boat being blown up in the Back Bay area for “Assassination,” a movie starring Charles Bronson, was supposed to burn for 35 seconds. Instead, it blazed for 40 minutes.
The explosion and fire stopped traffic on Coast Highway and halted flights from John Wayne Airport. Sparks scorched canvas covers on about 40 other boats, set a house ablaze, and caused smoke and cinder damage to others.
“It was such a painful movie, I have not ever watched it,” said Glen Everroad, the city’s revenue manager. Nevertheless, he added, the city learned a lesson.
It turned for help to a local film industry veteran, Joseph Cleary, who operates a small company that helps filmmakers find locations on boats or ships.
“After the disaster, Joe cleaned out Jacuzzis, washed windows and took damage estimates,” Everroad said.
Now Cleary coordinates crews coming into the city, often acting as a liaison between them and local merchants or homeowners.
When Volvo filmed an expensive television commercial near the Balboa Pier last summer, Cleary found a way to park an unexpected bus-sized dressing room truck without offending merchants. To stay on good terms with the locals, Cleary made sure that the crews ordered 60 pizzas a day and distributed them to locals on the beachfront.
“My biggest concern is not to dump on your neighbor,” Cleary said.
The city of Orange could have used someone like Cleary last month for the filming of the Toyota commercial on the most profitable day of the week for the antique and curio dealers who cluster near the circle park called the Plaza.
Shop owners say they didn’t have a chance to protest the plan to allow filming on Sunday before the City Council. And after approval came, some said they received a memo from the Toyota commercial’s producer, informing them that filming would be wrapped up at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
That schedule would have been all right, because the sidewalks usually fill in the afternoons as families wander over from church services and lunch. Instead, morning overcast prevented shooting--and the crews worked until 6 p.m.
Brian McBroom said that business at his family-owned J&J; Antiques and Collectibles was off $500 for the day. At one point, he said a woman coming to pick up a purchase was held behind the barricades for half an hour before being allowed through.
“It created tremendous turmoil,” said nearby antique dealer Chris Harwood. “There’s no way in the world we would have permitted (filming) on a Sunday.”
Ironically, the commercial will only be shown overseas--in Japan.
If Orange County wants a bigger piece of the film industry action, it had better learn to adjust to dealing with movie crews.
“You’ve got to convince people once in a while that they have to put up with a little inconvenience,” Roger Mayer, president of media mogul Ted Turner’s Turner Entertainment Co., said at a recent symposium on film production in Orange County. “Everyone would like to have (a movie) shot in the next block.”
Such inconvenience is worth it, local leaders say, because clearly identifiable images of Orange County seen around the globe will entice more people to visit, providing a boost to the county’s all-important tourism industry.
Often Orange County is merely a stand-in for somewhere else. When free-lance location manager Steve Dayan brought a production to Laguna Beach, it was because the local shores were a substitute for Hawaii.
“I found a perfect Hawaii look-alike,” he said.
Even if a city is portrayed by name, it is not always portrayed favorably.
In the hit summer movie “Speed,” Los Angeles is home to a mad bomber. When star Keanu Reeves boards a bomb-rigged public transit bus, he is threatened by a pistol-waving passenger.
Yet Los Angeles film officials are tickled that “Speed” was shot in the city, rather than becoming yet another “runaway” production. Never mind the less-than-ideal portrayal of the city.
“I think everyone understands we’re talking about fantasy,” said Patti Stolkin-Archuletta, director of the California Film Commission in Los Angeles. “It was an action movie. I don’t know that it sent a negative message about L.A. I thought it could be Anywhere, U.S.A.”
Ariel Penn, film liaison for the city of Pasadena, is fond of pointing out that Lyle Lovett and Whoopi Goldberg, playing two Pasadena police detectives in the 1993 Roger Altman film “The Player,” were about the only two honest characters in the film.
Cities can do little to regulate content. “Your film commission is not employed to be a censor,” said San Diego’s Schlotter.
For now, however, Orange County has so little major film production that censorship is the least of its problems.
Plans are in the works to promote the county at a major annual show for location managers and to invite them on a bus trip through the county to see photogenic spots like the old courthouse in Santa Ana, where a sequence in Rob Reiner’s summer film “North” was filmed.
Until then, movie scouts are likely to draw a blank when asked what they can shoot in Orange County.
“You probably have things there that none of us know anything about,” said Turner Entertainment’s Mayer. “When people are sitting around planning production, it’s not in their heads to say, ‘Let’s go to Orange County!’ ”
Sharing the Wealth
Movie production expenditures are divided among many sources. Here’s a sample of who gets paid for what:
Set design, construction, etc.: 19% * Lumberyards * Furniture stores * Art galleries * Home decorating stores
Makeup, hair & wardrobe: 5% * Hairdressers * Makeup artists * Beauty-supply stores * Local clothing retailers
Lighting, camera & sound: 10% * Camera rentals * Lighting technicians * Musicians
Transportation and location: 19% * Trucking companies * Shipping companies * Location rental * Restaurants * Caterers * Police/fire personnel * Hotels
Special effects and post-production: 20% * Effects houses * Editing companies
Other: 27% * Stage rentals * Insurance * Stunts
Source: Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers; Researched by JANICE L. JONES / Los Angeles Times
Film Industry Expenditures
Los Angeles County receives the biggest piece of the film industry production action. But Orange and other counties reap some benefits as well. Top six counties in industry expenditures for 1992, the most recent year for which data is available (in millions):
Payroll Vendors Total Los Angeles $7,012 $7,973 $14,985 Orange 83 133 216 Ventura 157 45 202 San Mateo 5 67 72 San Francisco 26 41 67 Marin 20 26 46 Other counties 139 568 707 California total $7,442 $8,853 $16,295
Movies vs. Television
Feature films boast big-name stars, but TV shows are the economic bread and butter in terms of production dollars. Despite attempts to lure projects out of state, most films and television shows are still shot in California. U.S. movie and TV productions by location for 1992:
Outside Partially/entirely California within California Movies 169 344 Television 188 533
Source: Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers; Researched by JANICE L. JONES / Los Angeles Times
On Location in O.C.
Moses parted the Red Sea in Seal Beach, Cleopatra’s barge cruised Corona del Mar and the Three Musketeers swashbuckled in Newport’s Back Bay. A partial list of films with scenes shot in Orange County, date released and the location:
* “Clear and Present Danger” (1994): John Wayne Airport, Los Alamitos Armed Forces Reserve Center
* “Angels in the Outfield” (1994): Santa Ana River Bike Trail next to Anaheim Stadium
* “Endless Summer II” (1994): Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach
* “Demolition Man” (1993): Park Place in Irvine, Koll Center, Newport Coast Drive, John Wayne Airport
* “Mighty Ducks II” (1993): The Pond of Anaheim
* “North” (1993): Old Orange County Courthouse
* “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” (1992): Santa Ana Train Station
* “Defending Your Life” (1991): Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley and Irvine Spectrum
* “Kindergarten Cop” (1990): MainPlace/Santa Ana
* “Kickboxer II” (1989): UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center
* “Rain Man” (1988): Santa Ana Train Station
* “Beaches” (1988): Newport Fun Zone and other portions of Newport Beach
* “Assassination” (1987): Newport Bay
* “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986): McDonnell Douglas headquarters, Huntington Beach
* “Rumblefish” (1982): Newport Elementary School
* “Frances” (1982): Old Santa Ana Courthouse
* “Gideon’s Trumpet” (1980): Old Orange County Courthouse
* “The Hindenburg” (1975): Hangars and field at Tustin Marine Corps Air Station
* “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971): Offshore oil-drilling rig between San Clemente and Oceanside.
* “Planet of the Apes” (1968): UC Irvine campus
* “Captain Blood” (1924): Newport Harbor
* “The Ten Commandments” (1923): Seal Beach, Anaheim Bay
* “College” (1921): Newport Harbor
* “The Three Musketeers” (1921): Newport Back Bay
* “Cleopatra” (1912): Corona del Mar
Sources: Orange County Film Office, Times reports, and “Shot in Orange County” by Jim Sleeper; Researched by JANICE L. JONES / Los Angeles Times