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Incident at the Chameleon Cove : The Beach Could Be Oregon, Hawaii, Portugal, Nicaragua or Japan--and a Backdrop for Whalers, Sailors, Salem Cigarettes, Surfers, New Blue Cheer or Libyan Terrorists

June 29, 1986|TOM HUTH | Tom Huth is a writer living in the mountains outside Boulder, Colo.

There is a cove out at the far end of Malibu, at Leo Carrillo State Beach, that is a movie-maker's dream. On weekdays it's not at all unusual to see film and video crews scrambling around the rocks, taking over the beach, shooing away innocent intruders, their production trucks and lunch wagons and Mercedes convertibles hogging the day-use parking lot.

One morning I come upon a crew shooting a handsome young couple in biking togs, setting off on their 10-speeds. Is it a commercial for shampoo? For tampons? For some new fitness council? Is it a made-for-TV romance? No, a crew member tells me, it's a spot for Manufacturers Hanover Trust. Another day, the object of the camera's affection is a portly gentleman in sombrero and serape, perched on a ledge with the surf gamboling in the background. This one turns out to be a pitch for some Calimexican restaurant. The next morning, a much larger gang is down on the sand, laying 20 feet of track for their dolly while four models in bikinis sun themselves in wait. It takes hours to set up the equipment; I can't imagine the expense. Surely this must be a major motion picture. But again I'm unable to decipher the symbols, and have to ask. "It's a commercial," I'm informed, "for a new heart medicine."

This cove, perhaps 100 yards from point to rocky point, with no houses in sight, could serve for any seaside fantasy. It could be the coast of Oregon or Hawaii or Portugal or Nicaragua or Japan. It could serve as a backdrop for whalers, sailors, Salems, surfers, pirates, New Blue Cheer or Libyan terrorists. We have probably seen this cove so many times, in fleeting image, that it's part of our collective subconscious.

But the show gets tiring. Sometimes I just want to be alone with the sea. On one such morning I sit in a notch in the rocks, sipping coffee out of a plastic mug, watching the waves rise humpbacked out of the kelp beds like sea monsters. The sand below has been swept clean by the night's high tide, not yet spoiled by footprints. It's miraculous that a person can have a place like this to himself so near to Los Angeles.

But by and by, a man appears on the next outcropping--and, sure enough, he is toting a television camera. He drops down to the beach and comes my way, stopping now and then to scrutinize the surroundings. I studiously ignore him, avoid any intimation of eye contact. But the man comes closer, and now he is climbing the rocks to my very nest. With a friendly "Good morning!" he thrusts out a business card, and I'm obliged to accept it. It reads:



Potts explains that he is here to check out the cove as a possible location for a feature movie now in production. He tells me that this movie takes place in the Philippines and that this cove would work nicely if it were given the Hollywood once-over. "We'd bring in some palm trees," he says. "Banana trees. That kind of stuff. We'd put in a thatched hut over there. We'd green out that lifeguard station."

"What do you mean," I ask, " 'green out' ?"

"Put some potted stuff in front of it. Tropical foliage. Probably more banana trees."

"Where," I wonder, "do you get banana trees?"

"Rent 'em," he says.


Potts tells me that production on the movie has been halted because the leading actor fell ill and the director is now recasting the part. And now he gets around to his pitch. "I want to shoot this end of the cove with my Betamax," he says, "to give the director an idea of what it looks like. And it would help--if you wouldn't mind, for just a few minutes--it would help if I could shoot someone walking along the beach so the director could get some perspective. The relative height of a person to the rock formations. If you could just take a minute to walk down that way, along the surf line--I'd sure appreciate. . . ."

Why, the gall these people have! As if the world were merely their set and we their disposable props.

"Why, no," I tell him. "I wouldn't mind."

I climb down, brush the sand off my shorts, and saunter through the man's little picture show. While I'm at it, I put a little bounce into my step, give it a certain flair, a dash of carelessness, roguishness. I kick at an onrushing wave--an excess, perhaps. But who knows? That director somewhere might just point to the screen and cry out: "Who is that man? That's exactly the fellow we're looking for!"

I watch Potts for further instructions. He motions for me to disappear behind the rocks, and I do so. Then, on my own inspiration, I climb up onto the formation and pause there--take off my dark glasses, regard the far horizon, the wind ruffling my hair. I stand there, grinning into the camera like a tourist at Old Faithful, wondering what these people want me to do next.

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