The makers of "Return to Horror High," for example, shot their $1-million comic shocker in two closed schools, John Hughes Junior High in Woodland Hills and Clark Junior High in Glendale.
Greg Sims, the executive producer of "Horror High," said it's about a film company that is making a low-budget movie in a closed school that was once the scene of a series of grisly, unsolved murders. High schools have been regarded as particularly apt settings for horror, at least since the 1976 film "Carrie," and Sims described his film as a gory but witty exploration of reality and illusion.
The characters in "Horror High" include a deranged principal and a sadistic biology teacher played by actor Vince Edwards. The film, which is being distributed by New World Pictures, was originally given an X rating for the climactic scene in which the biology teacher is dissected like a frog. Some judicious editing resulted in an R rating instead. Of the final product, Sims said fondly, "We've had a lot of repeat business. A lot of people say they want to drag their biology teachers to see it."
According to Sims, both school locations worked well for his company. The Glendale site has interior corridors with lockers, something that many California schools lack. And because the script called for a closed school, the film makers didn't have to spend too much of their minuscule budget dressing the buildings, which left more money for fake blood.
Schools within the so-called "studio zone," which lies within a 30-mile radius from the intersection of Beverly and La Cienega boulevards, are particularly attractive to film makers. Under union contract, companies that shoot within the zone do not have to transport cast or crew at company expense or pay for overnight accommodations.
Schools within the zone that look as if they were teleported from New Hampshire or Kansas are always in demand. The Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, a private prep school with a New England aura, is a popular location.
But the makers of "Daddy" \o7 wanted \f7 a school with a San Fernando Valley flavor for their ABC-TV movie about the high cost of teen-age pregnancy.
"We kind of see the Valley as Everywhere, USA," said "Daddy" producer Steve McGlothen. "There's something about it that says, 'American Teen--1987.' "
"Daddy" found a near-perfect location in Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior High School in Northridge, a school with an athletic field, an attractive flag pole area and a closed wing.
"We used the rooms and the desks and brought in everything else . . . our own chalk, our own posters," McGlothen said.
Despite the presence of hundreds of handy adolescents, the company also imported its own teen-agers. As often happens, the film makers avoided dealing with the child-protection laws that, among other restrictions, limit the number of hours underage actors can work, by hiring actors 18 and older. McGlothen is confident that viewers won't notice that the senior class in "Daddy" is a bit long in the tooth, any more than they will realize that the hallway gossiping and background banging of locker doors is actually simulated so it won't appear on the sound track.
Most filming in schools goes off without a hitch, say school and industry personnel. In the last 25 years, Los Angeles Unified School District has had to bring legal action only twice against companies that failed to meet the terms of their lease.
Filming can be a boon to the schools, especially when closed facilities are leased, inconveniencing no one. Director Carl Reiner spent six weeks this fall at Hughes Junior High in Woodland Hills shooting "Summer School," which will be released this summer by Paramount. The filming earned the school district more than $30,000, in addition to free repairs made at Hughes by the movie company, including several thousand dollars worth of new windows.
According to David Salven, the picture's location manager, Hughes served admirably as the high school where actor Mark Harmon is supposed to be a beach-loving teacher. People who see the comedy will be led to believe that the school is right on the beach, perhaps on the Palos Verdes Peninsula or in Malibu, where filming was also done, and not in the landlocked San Fernando Valley. The company was also able to use the empty school almost as a production facility, showing dailies in the former library, for instance.
Salven thinks filming is a great part-time business for the schools to be in. "We're the only industry that doesn't pollute," he said. "We don't leave chemicals behind. All we leave behind is money.
"If we donate $2,000 to a school, that's a lot of basketballs."