Neighbors Are Seeing Red Over Blue Movies

Times Staff Writer

As the leafy glen turns golden and bronze and lengthening autumn shadows fall over leftover Halloween pumpkins, the new legend of Sleepy Hollow is being written in Tarzana.

Washington Irving isn’t penning this tale -- even though his famed 182-year-old description of the “bevy of buxom lasses” and the “strange sights” that hold “a spell over the minds of the good people” living in a secluded “lap of land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world,” isn’t far off the mark.

For more than three months, tiny Sleepy Hollow Lane in one of Los Angeles’ most tranquil residential neighborhoods has been turned into an impromptu stage for adult filmmaking.

Nearby homeowners say they are forced to draw their drapes and lock their children inside their $1-million homes when porn movie actors and production crews show up for 12-hour film shoots at a handsome, white-stuccoed house on the end of the lane’s cul-de-sac.


Since August, eight adult films have been shot there, according to filming permit records. On Wednesday, another production company, Video Bliss, showed up, to the dismay of neighbors.

Angry residents contend city leaders and officials who issue film production permits have been slow to respond to complaints about the turmoil that the movie-making is causing in the 45-year-old hilltop neighborhood two miles south of the Ventura Freeway.

Their grumbling has prompted the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., the quasi-public organization that issues the permits, to take a close look at the filming.

The owner of the house said he was unaware of his neighbors’ unhappiness, however. He denied that the filming is having any impact on others.

Lawyer Marc Smith said he and his wife decided to rent out their home for adult films on a whim after their three boys went off to college.

“It wasn’t like we put an ad in the paper, ‘House Available for Porno Shoot.’ They came to us. I’m not in that business. Somebody came months ago and solicited us,” Smith said.

But the Sleepy Hollow Lane dispute illustrates the continuing balancing act that Angelenos, entertainment industry workers and city officials must perform in order to keep filming activity in Los Angeles -- and at the same time keep residents happy.

After a decline in filming last year, local production has rebounded, according to the EIDC. As many as 200 location shoots a day take place outside studios. Officials say they do not know how many of the 40,000 or so Los Angeles shoots a year take place in residential areas.


Mainstream filmmakers say they pick neighborhood backdrops because of the architectural style or the type of trees growing there.

Adult-film production crews apparently like the modern interior look of the Smiths’ house, which the owner said can be filmed so that it resembles such settings as a corporate boardroom or a nightclub. The home’s secluded and opulent backyard swimming pool is also an attraction.

The backyard is apparently not isolated enough, however. One film company reportedly ordered a 10-year-old girl playing in a neighboring yard to go into her house before the cameras started rolling for one explicit scene.

“She could see what was going on through the fence. I had to explain to her what a porn movie was. She said she didn’t know they made movies like that -- she’s a kid,” said the girl’s mother, who asked not to be named.


Another neighbor, Val Cowley, objected to scantily clad actresses going in and out of the house and occasionally being filmed on the small front lawn.

“I’ve got a 13-year-old son. It’s not the kind of thing I want him exposed to,” said the mother of four. “We chose a family neighborhood when we moved here. This is just not the environment we want.”

Neighbors recognized immediately that adult fare was being produced on Sleepy Hollow Lane, said Martin Grant, who lives on nearby Aleman Drive.

“They didn’t have a wardrobe truck -- they didn’t need one. It was just 20 guys showing up in pickups and SUVs,” he explained.


“I’m not a prude, but this is too much,” said homeowner Marilyn Kelliher. “I don’t mind filming once or twice. But every other week is too much.”

Other neighbors complain that production trucks and cars driven by cast and crew members clog nearby streets and sometimes block driveways. Some have worked past midnight with bright lights.

On one occasion, a production crew’s catering truck tapped into her front-yard garden hose without permission, one resident said.

Richard Sherman, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1971, said neighbors believe it is a violation of zoning laws to conduct a filming business in a residential area. That it’s adult fare makes it all the worse.


“We have a lot of children in the neighborhood now,” he said.

“Sexy Girls Next Door” was being shot last week by Playboy Enterprises. A large “Playboy TV” sign bearing the Playboy bunny logo was affixed to the front of the Smith house.

In the street, two camera crews filmed three actresses exiting a stretch limo and entering the house.

The street filming was illegal. So was the catering truck parked on the cul-de-sac and the line of 20 crew and cast vehicles parked nearby, according to EIDC officials.


The film crew’s $450 permit--which is good for two weeks and 10 different locations -- authorized filming only on the Smiths’ property, not a public street, said Darryl M. Seif, vice president and general manager of operations for the EIDC.

The catering truck should have been on the Smiths’ property too, and the private cars should have been out of the neighborhood altogether under terms of the permit, he said.

And any areas used for nudity or sex scenes must be screened or “draped” so they are not visible to the public, Seif said.

Because of neighbors’ complaints, Seif said he plans to call the Smiths in for a meeting.


“Even though the production company is the responsible party, the homeowner should monitor too,” Seif said.

Playboy spokesman Scott Barton said he plans to discuss last week’s filming with the production crew, which he said was producing soft-core nude footage -- not sex scenes.

While the city does not generally limit the amount of filming that can occur at any location, “we’ll step in if they are turning a house into a commercial property,” said Kathleen Milnes, an EIDC spokeswoman.

For his part, Smith seemed surprised that filming was done using the front of his house as a backdrop.


“I would be devastated if there was anything like that in the movie. I’d be devastated if anything in our house was recognizable,” he said.

Smith said he is prepared to immediately stop the filming -- provided neighbors “come to us and say they are offended -- and it’s not about jealousy or the money” he and his wife receive. That varies from about $800 to $2,000 a day, he said.

“I’d stop if somebody has a legitimate beef. I’m very sensitive,” Smith said.

“This is where we live,” he said. “I don’t want to ruin their neighborhood.”


So they’re waiting to see what happens next along Sleepy Hollow Lane, with its shimmering fall colors and its growing local reputation.

As Washington Irving put it: “The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales....”