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Hollywood’s Ventura Shoot Gets Mixed Reviews

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some local merchants would love the chance to see John Travolta or Halle Berry or have a few weeks of Hollywood glamour and money in downtown Ventura.

But some others want to postpone the shoot due to start Thursday, saying Warner Bros. should pay them more money.

About a dozen of 110 merchants in the downtown filming area don’t think they’ve been paid enough to make up for what they say has been a sharp drop in business since construction began last month for “Swordfish,” an action film starring Travolta.

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In the film, Travolta plays a rogue CIA agent who wants to use government computers to steal money, a studio official said.

“It’s killing us. My business is down 40%,” said Mike Clancy, co-owner of Main Street Antique Mall, who said the $10,000 Warner Bros. offered to cover his losses for the 13-day shoot will barely cover his rent for the three months of disruptive pre- and post-film construction. He said his rent is $3,000 a month for his shop, which sells antiques, knickknacks and collectibles.

Cindy Bryant, owner of Antique Collective, two doors down from Clancy, said her sales are down 35%, and September and October are normally the busiest season of the year for antique shops.

The unhappy merchants have hired attorney Tamara Green, who said her clients are in an uphill struggle but will still fight for more money. Green said she plans to file for a restraining order to stop production so her clients can get better deals before filming starts.

The Ventura set uses four blocks around Oak and Main streets, and crews have spent the past month transforming the old Bank of Italy building into a glitzy, glass-and-steel international bank headquarters and a bookstore across Main Street into a fashionable bistro.

Both will be “blown” to smithereens--along with cars and scores of locally hired extras--in a huge bank robbery scene that residents can watch from behind barricades.

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The activity has caught most merchants up in Travolta fever: Travolta posters, Travolta fan magazines and Travolta photos grace some shop windows.

Doug Halter, president of the downtown community council and owner of Villa Tasca, at Oak and Main streets, ground zero for the shoot, said he is astonished some store owners are complaining.

“Let me get this straight: a multibillion-dollar company comes to Ventura, brings hundreds of employees, stays in our hotels, offers money to businesses for their inconvenience and draws people to downtown, and these merchants can’t figure out how to make this into an opportunity?” Halter asked.

Some merchants in other Ventura County communities have had similar objections when film crews roll in. Business owners in Piru and Santa Paula have balked at how production companies have treated them, and in Ojai residents once marched in the streets when film crews kept them out of Libbey Park.

But production companies want to film in Ventura County and are usually willing to listen.

Regarding the “Swordfish” shoot, Lisa Rawlins, senior vice president for studio and production affairs at Warner Bros., said she could not give details on the compensation packages because the studio has not completed negotiations with all merchants. But, she said, if merchants can document a greater loss, Warner Bros. could pay their businesses more.

That’s not good enough, Green said, adding that Warner Bros. should be willing to work out a better deal before filming starts.

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Many shop owners disagree with the naysayers. Paul Miller, owner of Anacapa Brewing Co., said he has no problem opening his books to the studio if he has to prove a sales loss.

“To me this is a no-brainer. Anything that brings more people to downtown Ventura,” Miller said.

“They could have come in here, [gotten] a permit from the city” and ignored locals, “but they’ve gone out of their way,” he said.

Some of the merchants say the city should have done more to ensure shop owners get adequate compensation, but Skip Robinson, the city’s film liaison, said the city only issues the film permit and the rest is a private arrangement between the merchants and the studio.

Overall, the shoot is extremely good for the city, said Robinson, adding that Warner Bros. has “bent over backward” and that most of the merchants are enthusiastic about the venture.

“Warner Bros. has been extremely professional and going way above what we require of them in film permits,” Robinson said. “We don’t require them to negotiate with the merchants. They put out a carte blanche to them if they can substantiate any losses.”

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City officials are also pleased to see the studio pump money into Ventura’s sagging tax base, Robinson said.

The city itself will get tens of thousands of dollars to cover police costs. The studio has also hired local construction workers, bought supplies from a local lumber company and other retailers, and hired local caterers and security. About 60 to 70 people from the crew are staying in three Ventura hotels.

A Warner Bros. spokeswoman estimates hotel bills alone could reach $100,000.

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The company will have a 150-person crew and plans to hire 1,400 “man days” worth of extras, many of whom will be local residents, said Amanda Brand, unit publicist. It also will allow residents onto the set, has advertised the shoot in local newspapers and radio, and city officials are allowing some interior improvements to the bookstore to remain permanently.

Rawlins said a comparable shoot would be “Lethal Weapon 4,” in which Warner Bros. dropped just more than $1 million into Long Beach via hotel and car rentals, hardware and supplies, gasoline, permits and fees and other expenses.

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