They’re Getting the Picture


Nearly four times as many movies and other productions were made in Orange County last year as in 1995, an encouraging sign for officials of the Orange County Film Commission.

Production companies “used to call it the ‘Orange Curtain’ when referring to the policies and attitudes on filming here,” said Cristi Silverberg, director of the 3-year-old commission. “They thought we’d do anything to keep them out or make filming difficult.”

The commission’s role is to make Orange County more “film-friendly” by speeding up permit approval for production companies and coordinating filming with city officials. The agency is now fielding more than 100 inquiries a month from location scouts, Silverberg said.


To hold the industry’s new interest in Orange County, the commission recently asked city officials to review their current film policies and consider adopting a model ordinance that would make production rules uniform.

“Orange County is unique because each city has its own way of handling productions, which can be confusing to production companies,” Silverberg said. “They want it done quickly. . . . Dealing with a bunch of ins and outs and different policies can be a turn-off.”

City officials say they recognize the potential benefits of having a production crew in town. TV commercials can generate $10,000 a day in revenue for local merchants and feature films--31 of which were made here last year--at least $30,000.

Garden Grove last week approved the commission’s model film ordinance, and the issue is being reviewed in half a dozen other cities, most of which do not have specific guidelines, Silverberg said.

Many municipalities now treat filming arrangements “like a business license or special-use permit, which really doesn’t fit this industry,” she said. “There are a lot of unusual aspects to productions that cities should be prepared for.”


In Mission Viejo, for example, production permits are still handled as special events, a policy that the city hopes to change.

“We all want to start promoting the city,” senior planner Karen Verlaan said. “We haven’t been that well-known, but we have a lot to offer.”

Huntington Beach officials are reviewing their 4-year-old film ordinance to make sure that the city’s filming fees, which range from $50 to $250, are still acceptable in the industry.

“We want to be competitive,” said film coordinator Michael Mudd, who projects that at least 60 productions will be made in Surf City this year. “It’s obvious that Orange County’s appeal is being recognized, and we don’t want to miss any opportunities.”

Mudd said the recent filming of a European TV commercial prompted the city to consider raising location fees for more complicated shoots.

Crews for a Swedish candy-bar company dismantled part of the Huntington Beach Pier so that a limousine could plunge into the ocean. The scene meant extra work for the city staff, including engineers and public works employees, as well as for the U.S. Coast Guard, which was on hand.

“The whole thing posed an additional risk to the city,” Mudd said. “But the fee was the same as it would be for a regular shoot in which no structural modifications were made.”


City officials in Orange, too, are studying the model ordinance, hoping to change their longtime reputation in Hollywood of being “film-hostile,” said Lori Corbett, the city’s film coordinator.

“We’ve actually had merchants chase production companies right out of their businesses,” she said. “It gave us such a bad name in the industry.”

Despite that lingering ill will and a hefty location fee of $1,750 a day to film in Old Town, Orange has become a favorite Hollywood backdrop. Tom Hanks chose it for his 1996 movie “That Thing You Do.”

The six-week production drew complaints from merchants that the filming was keeping customers from their shops, Corbett said, so the city is working closely with business owners now to minimize future disruptions.

A little inconvenience is worth it, film commission officials say, because clearly identifiable images of Orange County seen around the globe will entice people to visit, boosting the county’s important tourism industry.

In addition, the 360 productions shot last year brought at least $5.3 million to Orange County businesses, Silverberg said.

“What we find is that when the community is included in the process and kept informed, they really get into it,” she said. “They’re fascinated with the production and proud that their town is going to be in a movie.”


On Location

Since 1994, the number of productions filmed in Orange County has exploded, and estimated revenue has increased significantly:


1996 1995 1994 Feature films 31 12 16 TV shows 30 12 9 Commercials, industrial training films 156 46 50 Still photography sessions* 115 22 22 Student productions 10 1 -- Miscellaneous** 18 -- -- Total 360 93 97 Estimated revenue (millions) $5.3 $4.1 $2.5


* Including magazines and print advertisements

** Including music videos and documentaries


Movies were being made here long before the creation of film ordinances. In 1923, Moses parted the Red Sea in Seal Beach, and in 1921, the Three Musketeers swashbuckled in Newport Beach’s Back Bay. Eight years ago, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise shuffled through the Santa Ana Train Station at the conclusion of “Rain Man.” Orange County’s latest film scenes:


Movie Location 1995 “The Fan” Anaheim Stadium “Eraser” Rockwell Inc., Seal Beach “Trigger Effect” Rossmoor “The American President” Old County Courthouse “Up Close and Personal” John Wayne Airport 1995-1996 “That Thing You Do” City of Orange, Orange County Fairgrounds 1996 “Jerry Maguire” John Wayne Airport “The Cable Guy” Medieval Times, Buena Park


Source: Orange County Film Commission; Researched by BONNIE HAYES / For The Times