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FILM CLIPS

'Happy New Year' And A Bah Humbug

July 12, 1985|JACK MATHEWS | Times Staff Writer

You've heard of runaway production. That's where a Hollywood producer takes his money and goes someplace else to make his movie.

This is a story about go-away production. That's where someplace else tells a Hollywood producer to take his money and his movie and get lost.

"We don't have anything against him (Jerry Weintraub) or his movie," says councilwoman Nancy Douthit, sounding the majority opinion of rich, exclusive Palm Beach, Fla., which has successfully kept Weintraub's "Happy New Year" off its streets.

"We're against any film companies being here. . . . We don't need them and we don't want them."

Even over the telephone, Douthit's words have a little pucker in them, as if the mere thought of cameras and lights and cranes and scruffy people in jeans might lower property values in an area where starters go for more than $200,000.

Weintraub, who estimates he spent an additional $1 million duplicating store fronts that Palm Beach wouldn't let him photograph, has a little pucker in his voice too.

"If I had it to do over," he says, "I'd make the film in California."

"Happy New Year," starring Peter Falk and Wendy Hughes, is a remake of French director Claude Lelouch's "La Bonne Annee," a love story partly set in the Riviera resort town of Cannes.

Weintraub and director John Avildsen, with whom he'd collaborated on last year's "The Karate Kid," planned to shoot extensive scenes on Palm Beach's busy two-lane Worth Avenue, the Rodeo Drive of Florida. But when the film company got there, Palm Beach said: "Keep going."

"I don't understand it," says Weintraub, whose request for a film permit was unanimously rejected by the town council (he ended up filming mostly on sets in a Fort Lauderdale warehouse). "The governor is pro-film, the Florida Film Commission is pro-film. It's just Palm Beach."

Actually, nearby Boca Raton isn't too keen on film companies either. Rich people don't look for odd jobs carrying props and most of them have no stakes in the local economies. But Palm Beach has written its distastes into the books.

You can't fly a noisy helicopter over the town. You can't grow a hedge too high. You can't walk around with your chest uncovered (unless you're under 14, or within a Frisbee toss of the surf). And you certainly can't make movies.

Councilwoman Douthit, whose stand against the film makers has gone over like a tax break with her constituents, is happy to itemize the reasons why movies are bad for Palm Beach, a town whose population swells from 10,000 to 40,000 in peak season:

1. They would cause traffic jams ("Hordes of tourists would show up to see the stars") that would block emergency routes for ambulances and fire trucks.

2. It could hurt the town's image. One movie may be OK, she says, the next one could be pornographic. (The town is still blushing over a Hustler magazine spread that was shot in a rented Palm Beach mansion a few years ago.)

3. It will cost the city thousands of dollars in traffic control, police overtime and clean-up for any catastrophes that might occur. (For some reason, this reminds her of the $150,000 the town shelled out last Thanksgiving to remove a freighter that had washed up on Molly Wilmont's seawall.)

4. Film makers have been linked to the underworld in the past, and the underworld is involved in drugs. ("I'm not saying there's a connection in this case," she says, "but we don't need to take those kinds of chances.")

Weintraub says the film company offered to accommodate the town any way necessary, including avoiding Worth Avenue during high-traffic hours and reimbursing the town for any expenses.

"Normally, everybody wants us because we bring a lot of money into the area and we bring a lot of jobs," Weintraub says. "Their attitude is wrong on moral and ethical grounds. It deprives the community."

Douthit thinks the town council actually went too far in cooperating with Weintraub. While she was urging the town attorney to draw up even stiffer ordinances to shut the film makers out, the council ultimately relented--sort of--and let them in. The council said the company could shoot on Worth Avenue as long as it did so from a moving vehicle.

Big deal, said Weintraub. The First Amendment assures them that much.

Apparently there were threats of drawing the American Civil Liberties Union in to test Palm Beach's battery of ordinances, and until just a few days ago, the film company was considering trying some sort of end run.

Finally, Weintraub & Co. decided to settle for a few passing shots of Worth Avenue and one scene of actor Peter Falk arriving at Palm Beach's famous Breakers Hotel--an event made possible by a loophole in the law and by the combined appeal of both the Florida Film Commission and Gov. Robert Graham.

"We did the best we could for them in Palm Beach," says Charlie Porretto of the state's busy film commission office, which he says assisted on 35 movies made in Florida last year. "But a city ordinance is a city ordinance."

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