The latest video-rental release to hit Topanga Canyon doesn't have the excitement of "Top Gun" or the glamour of "Jane Fonda's Workout."
But the color production of "Clear That Brush the Safe Way" has a hot story line, a familiar cast of characters and the look of a hit.
The half-hour videotape tackles the tricky issue of removing enough hillside vegetation to prevent summertime brush fires--while leaving enough to prevent wintertime mud slides.
Produced with mostly volunteer help, the video nonetheless has a slick Hollywood look.
It mixes scenes of actual brush fires with music and narration by television weatherman George Fischbeck and local firefighters, ecologists and homeowners who have lost their homes in mountain blazes.
The $2-per-night rental is expected to be in video shops soon within the Topanga-Las Virgenes Resource Conservation District, which covers 192 square miles from the hills of Encino to those of Thousand Oaks.
"It's a way of keeping up with the times," said David N. Gottlieb, one of the district's directors and the producer-director of the video.
"The number of houses in this area with VCRs is astounding. We felt this would be a good way to get a visual explanation into the home."
The tape is a spectacular departure from previous Topanga-Las Virgenes district public service ventures. Those have typically been modest brochures and staid booklets handed out at the agency's Topanga headquarters, a trailer.
The video production was financed with a $5,000 grant from the U. S. Soil Conservation Service.
District officials said the video was premiered at an international erosion-control conference recently in Reno, where "it was received as if it was a major paper."
"How do you describe in words what chamise looks like?" said Gottlieb, referring to a highly flammable plant. "You wouldn't be able to put many color photos in a brochure for $5,000."
Gottlieb, 40, is an independent producer who has turned out television documentaries, movies of the week and children's shows. His latest effort shows which plants, such as chamises, should be chopped down by homeowners and which bushes should be thinned out and preserved so their root systems can add stability to hillsides.
It offers such tips as how to use chainsaws and weed trimmers, suggests the quickest and easiest way to drag brush off hillsides and tells how to legally dispose of it once it is cut down.
Burning Could Be Banned
The video shows that the easiest way is to burn it, although such backyard bonfires could be permanently banned in the hillsides after May 31 by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
The anti-smog agency contends that such burning adds to air pollution in the Los Angeles basin, although Los Angeles County Fire Department officials and environmentalists have disputed that contention.
Air-quality officials are evaluating recent air studies and will decide with fire officials this summer whether to let the damp-weather burning resume next winter, South Coast district spokesman Ron Ketcham said.
Elizabeth Douphner, clerk of the Topanga-Las Virgenes Resource District, said copies of the video will be made available to community groups that want to screen it. District directors have also voted to sell it for $29.95 per copy, she said.
The initial production was of only 30 copies, but district officials say they are prepared to duplicate it as many times as needed to meet demand. Proceeds from the rentals and any sales will go to the district.
"We think it will be very helpful to newcomers to the hills and mountains," she said. "Usually, the first time they're aware of the brush-fire danger is when there's a fire."