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ON LOCATION : Hollywood Is Casting Eyes on Orange County for Everything From Features to Commercials

March 11, 1988|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

Hollywood is looking for some superstars in Orange County, ones that don't need sparkling smiles--or even teeth, for that matter.

What Hollywood wants, and is willing to pay good money for, are one-of-a-kind mansions, unusual homes, houses that can double for dwellings in the East or Midwest.

After decades of being used as a real-life back lot, Los Angeles has reached the saturation point in some areas for location shooting, so many a film maker's eyes are gazing wistfully a little to the southeast.

"I get a lot of requests for non-L.A.-looking locations without the palm trees: the old brick houses, Tudors with trees," says Liz Ervin, co-owner of El Toro-based Pacific Location Search. In her files, she has everything from "upscale mansions to slums."

Ervin, a free-lance script supervisor, began her location-search firm six months ago. She says she receives about five requests a week from Los Angeles commercial and feature film production companies looking for locations. One feature film company recently asked her to shoot five rolls of film of "an Irvine-type neighborhood," including such details as street signs, lampposts and mailboxes.

The California Film Commission, a state agency whose purpose is to stem the tide of runaway productions, also maintains a file of more than 50,000 California locations for film makers--everything from small towns, hotels and state parks to roads, bridges, lakes, ponds and piers. (Among the Orange County locales on file are the Anaheim Country Inn and the historic Heritage House in Fullerton.)

"We are looking for the unique," says Donna Wells, the Hollywood-based commission's production specialist. "We're not very much looking for just tract houses--unless it's a developer with a tract about to open, or if somebody is going to tear down a house--a lot of movie companies are doing explosions and driving cars into houses--or buildings, warehouses and factories that are going to be demolished.

"Anything that's abandoned is of great interest to us: Churches, restaurants, hotels. It's like a standing set. So we welcome hearing from people out there."

On any given weekday, about 65 film companies are on location in Los Angeles County. But, according to Wells, many Hollywood-based film production companies overlook their next-door neighbor to the south.

"We've been doing our best to encourage people to go there," says Wells. "Orange County hasn't been overshot. It's virgin territory, and I think the community is amenable to filming

and would welcome the film industry."

"It's a great location," says California Film Commission director Lisa Rawlins, who grew up in Costa Mesa. "Chapman College is of interest, I know, and that whole (town) square in Orange has a wonderful look and it's used. But for the most part, Orange County is just not used that much. It's really kind of a shame because there are wonderful locations there."

In exclusive Hancock Park, where mansion owners may receive $5,000 or more a day for filming, several companies are on location every day of the week. In many of these over-filmed areas of Los Angeles, some residents have started to complain about the inconvenience of having a large convoy of studio trucks parked on their streets. Some cities now even restrict the number of trucks that can be parked on the street, or as in the case of San Marino, charge film companies $2,000 a day to do so.

"Los Angeles is becoming really difficult (for filming) and there is a need for Orange County homes," says Jim Thompson, president of Real to Reel, a Hollywood location service. "The problem with Orange County is it's outside the 30-mile zone."

Therein lies the catch.

The zone refers to a 30-mile radius extending from a point in Hollywood (actually the intersection of Beverly and La Cienega boulevards). Any time filming is done outside the studio zone, production costs rise because the production company must pay union crew members transportation and other per diem expenses.

Although parts of Orange County nearest to Los Angeles--roughly an arc that runs from Seal Beach through Stanton and Garden Grove, Anaheim, Fullerton and Brea--falls within the zone, most of it lies outside the limit.

That's not to say Los Angeles-based film makers won't film in Orange County.

For example, last fall Mary and Dr. Ralph Mack's Big Canyon house was turned into a mini-studio for an epic starring Chad Everett (OK, so it was a commercial for a water purifier). The den became a dressing room. The dining room was used for makeup. And camera, lighting and sound equipment were scattered throughout the family room and out on the patio.

The center of activity was the Macks' spacious kitchen with its countertop island. That's what attracted the commercial company's location scout to the Macks' home in the first place. Reality, however, is never quite good enough by Hollywood standards.

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