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Santa Paula Shoots Down Film Crews

August 17, 1989|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Unimpressed by movie stars and increasingly irritated by film crews that disrupt business, Santa Paula merchants have banded together to yell, "Cut!"

The problem is one that many cities would envy: Santa Paula's quaint downtown area is a popular stand-in for "Main Street, U.S.A."

But, merchants say, film crews invade their small town with the sensitivity of marauding Huns, blocking traffic with their big trailers and sometimes failing to compensate them adequately for lost business.

"I think, unfortunately, there's a large degree of insensitivity to the needs of the merchants," said Steve Rogers, a city employee who serves as a liaison between the film crews and the Santa Paula city administrator.

Guidelines in Works

In early July, local business leaders decided to fight back. They persuaded the City Council to impose a temporary ban on filming while they hammered out some guidelines, which will be subject to council approval.

And last week, a group of city officials and local merchants held their first meeting with a representative of the California Film Commission.

Both sides say that comprehensive rules are needed to regulate filming. In addition, merchants want to establish a fee structure, limit movie parking on main thoroughfares, and start a promotional campaign to let customers know that downtown is still open for business on filming days.

The Commission stops short of calling the city unsophisticated but says merchants should learn how to negotiate the best possible deal for themselves.

"Santa Paula has not been aggressive enough in dealing with the film industry. The city is in the driver's seat and . . . should put its foot down more," said Lisa Rawlins, executive director of the Film Commission.

Toward this goal, Rawlins plans to distribute to area business people a book published by the commission: "Your Property in a Starring Role." The book is an "A to Z primer for businesses on how to deal with the film industry," said Rawlins, whose organization promotes filming in California as part of the state Department of Commerce.

Rawlins admitted, however, that Santa Paula "seems to have an inordinate amount of trouble" with film crews, compared with cities like Monrovia and Santa Monica, which also are frequently invaded by production companies.

In Santa Paula, the problem has been percolating for a long time, city officials say. It grew worse in recent months, when several back-to-back film shoots frazzled the nerves of local merchants.

Santa Paula officials estimate that film crews spent 28 days in town last year, generating about $7,000 in permit fees for the city. Figures are now being compiled that will include revenues generated by retail and service industries.

'Fugitives' in Town

Touchstone Films, for instance, said it spent $72,000 in three days last year when it visited Santa Paula to make a film with Nick Nolte called "The Three Fugitives." Rawlins said much of the money went toward food, hotels, gasoline and other locally supplied items.

"These people . . . I don't think they see the big picture. My job is to point out the economic benefits," Rawlins said.

She suggested that merchants take out newspaper ads urging customers to use back entrances during filming and to use the presence of film crews to lure curiosity-seekers downtown.

"You can promote the fact that a film production company is in town . . . and turn it to your advantage," Rawlins said.

But sometimes, say Santa Paula residents, the arrival of a film crew pits small-town morals against Sin City values.

Some locals were particularly irked when an L.A. film crew showed up recently wearing "offensive T-shirts" that featured obscene slogans and gestures, Rogers said.

"Our downtown has a rather wholesome image, and we found some of their language and attitudes offensive," he said.

Another Set of Complaints

The city of Ventura was likewise miffed in June after several weeks of filming ended for the Jack Nicholson movie "The Two Jakes," a sequel to "Chinatown."

At the time, Mayor Jim Monahan said the film crew left in its wake a dirty carpet and a claim that the city had overcharged it and produced an overall feeling that films were "too disruptive of business" at City Hall.

Officials were also rebuffed in their initial attempts to present actor Jack Nicholson with a key to the city. The film's producer reportedly told them that "we don't accept that kind of crap." Nicholson eventually accepted the key through a secretary.

Today, however, Ventura city officials call the whole episode a misunderstanding and say they enjoyed the glamour of having a movie filmed in their council chambers.

Al Sandoval disagrees. Sandoval, who owns A & B Photo on Main Street in Santa Paula, says film crews should be regulated closely.

Even though he benefits from the out-of-town visitors, who sometimes get their film developed at his store, Sandoval says, it's not enough to make up for the disruption.

"They film across the street, and that business gets compensated for the use of their building, but they block off the whole street, and sometimes the guy down the block doesn't get compensated," Sandoval asserted.

For these merchants, Hollywood fever is not likely to strike anytime soon.

Said Sandoval: "It's nice to have movie stars coming in, but as far as I'm concerned, they can go."

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