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Campuses Make Popular Film Locations : As Stars, Schools Are in Class of Their Own

March 01, 1987|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | Times Staff Writer

According to Niccum and his staff, the Los Angeles district's most popular site for filming is the San Pedro-Wilmington Skills Center, an adult education facility with an ocean view on the grounds of Ft. MacArthur.

'Most Popular Site'

"It would kill the film industry if we razed these buildings," Principal Richard Belman said recently. "We've got these bunkers that look like you're on another planet. This is the most popular site in the world."

Goldie Hawn's "Private Benjamin" and two recent TV miniseries--"Fatal Vision" and "From Here to Eternity"--were among the projects shot there.

Other schools popular with film makers include Van Nuys and Ulysses S. Grant high schools, both in Van Nuys, John Marshall High School in Silver Lake, Palisades High School in Pacific Palisades and John Burroughs Junior High in the Wilshire district.

Movie cameras are so common in district schools that a dozen companies, including Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount and the TV networks, have had blanket leases for decades that allow them to film at short notice, Niccum said.

During 1985-86, the school district made $273,306 from filming. The money is used to help buy portable classrooms and otherwise relieve crowding.

Like students, film makers must follow the rules. They must carry at least $1 million in insurance against accidents and property damage. They must supply their own electrical power. And they are not allowed to reveal the actual name of the school being filmed. Thus, only insiders and sharp-eyed locals know that Rydell High, John Travolta's and Olivia Newton-John's alma mater in "Grease," was actually a composite of John Marshall, Huntington Park and Venice high schools.

The principal of each school decides on the terms for filming. Some bar shooting during school hours, for example.

Susan Lio Arcaris is principal of Dorris Place Elementary School, probably the most filmed elementary school in the United States.

Dorris Place in Elysian Park has elegant brick work and dark wood trim that says "East Coast" to location managers ever alert for Los Angeles facilities that appear to be somewhere else.

Commercial Star

During the 1985-86 school year, Dorris Place starred in commercials for Purina, the California Lottery, the Mormon Church, Burger King, the National Education Assn. and Kleenex. The school has also been used for feature films and television shows.

One third-grade classroom, Room 2, is filmed so often that teacher Leone Pippin had a floor plan of the room professionally drawn so that clean-up crews would know exactly where each piece of furniture should be put back. (She also had the desks numbered.)

When shooting is going on in Room 2, the class goes on a field trip paid for by the visitors. In the interests of fairness, students from a less photogenic classroom also take the trip.

Of the filming, Arcaris said: "The only time it becomes difficult is when the production company doesn't take the time to sit down with me and tell me what's going to be happening." The makers of the Purina commercial, for example, alerted her before they began carting cages of cats into the school.

Shooting is not very disruptive most of the time, Arcaris said. However, a film crew once arrived at dawn and commandeered every available faculty parking space. Another time she chided a crew member who began popping champagne corks for the traditional wrap party while the children were still in school.

But overall, Arcaris said, the school benefits from the experience. Companies usually make a donation directly to the school in addition to the fee paid the district. Dorris Place received $4,400 from film makers in 1985-86. The money was used to buy computers, software and uniforms for the school's winning basketball team.

One company further sweetened the deal by buying cookies for every child in the school.

Many principals ask to see scripts.

"I don't want the school to be seen in anything I wouldn't approve of for myself or my children or the children here at the school," Arcaris said. The makers of the TV movie "The Atlanta Child Murders" got permission to use the school only after Arcaris had "asked a lot of questions and was reassured."

Lecherous Principal

Tom Rayburn, an assistant principal at University High School, is equally vigilant. Uni, a charming older school in West Los Angeles, receives between $5,000 and $15,000 annually from companies that shoot on campus. But Rayburn would never have approved Uni's appearance, which happened before his tenure, in Roger Vadim's 1971 film "Pretty Maids All in a Row." In the film, Rock Hudson portrayed a lecherous assistant principal.

"I couldn't believe that was my school," Rayburn said.

Although individual schools can set limits on sex and violence, the district itself does not require script approval. According to Niccum, the district requires only that any potentially offensive scenes be shot out of public view. As a result, not everything filmed in Los Angeles schools has redeeming social value.

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