Television Show Shoot Takes City by Storm

A howling hurricane hit Buenaventura on Wednesday, reducing narrow streets to muddy, trash-strewn paths, with lightning and wind imperiling a clattering helicopter flying overhead.

Fortunately, this Buenaventura was a fictitious Central American country that provides the exotic setting for "Air America," the latest syndicated television series to film in Ventura.

"Air America" resembles the 1990 Mel Gibson-Robert Downey Jr. feature film in name only.

Produced by Franklin-Waterman Worldwide at its fledgling Santa Ventura Studios, the show stars Lorenzo Lamas, best known for a recurring role on the prime-time soap "Falcon Crest" and as the star of the syndicated "Renegade."

On this last day of shooting, the fake hurricane was supplying the dramatic backdrop for the final episode of "Air America," which also stars Lamas' real-life wife, Shauna Sand Lamas, and his mother, Arlene Dahl.

"We want to give our audience 'A-Team' quality action with 'Moonlighting' quality humor . . . on half the budget of 'E.R.,' " said Lamas, now shorn of the familiar ponytail he wore for "Renegade."

About half the scenes for the 26 episodes have been shot at such locations as Moorpark, Santa Paula Airport and local beaches over the last five months.

The remainder are shot on Latin-flavored sets at the growing 30-acre studio, located at an old school north of the Ventura city limits.

Completed this week: a 30,000-square-foot sound stage, with a 70,000-gallon underground water tank.

The eventual goal is to build 400,000 to 500,000 square feet of space in an effort to quench the rapidly expanding entertainment industry's need for sound stages, said owner Jeff Franklin.

"Our goal is to make this a major studio," Franklin said. "There's a lot of major filmmakers who live in this area from Ojai to Montecito."

The perception that Ventura is out in the boondocks is slowly changing in Hollywood, Franklin said.

His company has done its part to revamp that image, using Ventura as its base for the surfing detective drama "High Tide," which starred pop singer Rick Springfield, and the Stacy Keach vehicle "Hammer."

The variety and underexposure of locations combined with a lack of people and traffic mean the logistical problems besetting production companies in Tinseltown are largely absent, Franklin said. And the fresh air and slower pace are conducive to a creative atmosphere, he said.

"It's just nice to get away, get out of the city," said Scott Plank, who plays Lamas' "mischievous, prank-playing" sidekick on the show. "Ventura really gives us a lot of freedom."

"Air America" premieres locally on KADY and KCAL next week.

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