Steve Centurioni, who lives in an exclusive, mansion-filled neighborhood on Arden Road in Pasadena, was working at home a few weeks ago when he saw a garbage truck, an armored car and then a squad of police cars careening down his usually tranquil street.
His first reaction was that he was about to witness a major accident. But he realized soon after a camera car passed that it was only another production company making yet another movie in his neighborhood.
"That was the straw that broke the camel's back," he muttered. "If I wanted to live in the back of 20th Century Fox, I would have moved to Culver City."
For better or for worse, the movie business is booming in Pasadena, bringing with it a bounty of both revenue and complaints.
No Longer Exciting
"It was fun to see them make a movie maybe the first couple of times," said Audre Bush, who lives next door to one of the city's most popular filming locations, a mansion owned by the Coleman Morton family at 1145 Arden Road.
"But now it's just trucks and generators," Bush said. "That's all it is to me now."
The number of film permits issued by the city has more than doubled since 1984, and last year, Pasadena's 310 filming permits were exceeded in Southern California only by Los Angeles, which issued 6,033 permits, and Los Angeles County, which issued 2,020 permits.
In three years, the city has gone from being one of the most restrictive to one of the most popular and film-friendly cities in the state.
Gone are the days when filming had to stop promptly at 7 p.m. or when all the neighbors in an area had to agree to any filming. There are no longer regulations banning any type of filming on the streets or requiring the presence of firemen at every filming location.
"Anything that was outdated or that was really unnecessary, we tried to get rid of," said Charles E. Walker, the city's film liaison. "Now instead of being a last resort for film companies, we've become a first thought."
As a result of the more liberal policy, the city took in a record $191,000 in license and rental revenue last year, almost double the estimated $100,000 it took in in 1985. Many homeowners and businesses, including florists and caterers, also profited handsomely from the film-making.
Tired of Eddie Murphy Movies
But for many residents who have grown tired of close encounters with Eddie Murphy movies, commercials for wine coolers and "Dynasty" episodes, the filming has become more trouble than it is worth.
The rise in local production has created parking, traffic and noise problems in the affluent neighborhoods where most of the filming takes place. And for many residents, the frequent disturbances have taken some of the luster out of living the good life in Pasadena.
"The novelty of having a movie shot across the street wore off a long time ago," said Centurioni, who has lived on Arden Road for 12 years. "It's like we're living in a studio back lot now."
Although Walker said the number of complaints to the city dropped from about 60 in 1985 to 25 last year,
many residents living near the most popular locations said they had not seen a noticeable improvement in the situation.
Walker, who was an independent producer and director before he became the city's film liaison, said he used to shudder at the thought of filming in Pasadena, which had the reputation of being a location manager's nightmare.
The application process alone, involving trips to the city clerk's office, the Public Works Department, the Police Department, the Fire Department and the Risks and Grant Management Department, was enough to scare away even the most intrepid companies, he said.
"Next to Beverly Hills, Pasadena was probably the worst place to film," he said, adding that the general attitude of city officials was, "Let's make life miserable for these film guys."
However, in 1984 the city made a dramatic about-face by creating a central film office, in part because of a statewide effort started three years ago by Gov. George Deukmejian to halt the exodus of film productions from the state.
Over the previous decade, production companies had found it cheaper and easier to shoot elsewhere, said Lisa Rawlins, director of the state Department of Commerce's film office.
Loss of $1 Billion
This so-called "runaway production" started as a trickle, but eventually became a flood, and in 1985 alone, the state lost an estimated $1 billion to other states and nations, she said.
The push by the state got the city interested in easing its regulations on filming so it could cash in the potentially lucrative source of revenue, Walker said.
The city streamlined the permit application process to the point where only one stop, involving a 15- to 20-minute interview with the city's film liaison and payment of a $480-a-day filming fee, is required, Walker said.