Betty Keatinge was astonished and outraged at a letter she got last September from Paramount Pictures Corp.
Paramount wanted to film a movie, "Dead Again," on Keatinge's street, South San Rafael Avenue next to the Arroyo Seco.
The letter said studio crews would obtain Federal Aviation Administration permission to use a helicopter to fly giant sets assembled in the arroyo over the street's $2-million homes and set them down in a neighbor's yard. Workers would then erect the sets to make the neighbor's mansion look even bigger.
The plans called for filming to last eight days, with time out on the weekend. Night filming would last until 10 p.m. A helicopter would also do day and night "establishing shots" over the mansion, the studio said. Because those conditions were not allowed under the city's filming rules, the studio sought residents' permission for an exemption.
Keatinge and her neighbors, however, were dead against "Dead Again." They protested to the city.
Lacking the residents' approval, the studio had to scale back to meet city rules. And in October, flatbed trucks rumbled through their quiet street, bearing the huge sets the residents had banished from the air. The arroyo echoed with the sound of hammers and drills as workers climbed all over the mansion's roof, attaching the sets.
With 363 film permits issued last year, Pasadena is enjoying a bounty of such film work worth $5 million yearly to the local economy, said Ariel Penn, the city's film liaison coordinator. But residents in areas frequently used by movie crews have started a mutiny on the bounty.
"It's as if we were a Hollywood back lot," Keatinge said.
A typical location shoot can send up to 100 actors, extras and crew members, plus a half-mile of trucks and trailers--loaded with sets, lighting, wardrobes, dressing rooms and food--swarming through quiet, residential streets.
Residents complain that film crews block traffic, set up lights that turn evenings into high noon, leave litter after curbside lunches from catering trucks and shatter residential quiet with the hum of electrical generators.
Mansion owners, meanwhile, say that their estates, with space to accommodate film crews and equipment on site, are being unfairly criticized by neighbors covetous of the $2,500 to $5,000 paid daily for location shooting.
These mansion-owning residents blame the problems on other estate owners, who they say allowed too many filming jobs. "All it takes is for someone to get out of line for the whole thing to collapse," said Charles Morton, owner of a 20,000-square-foot Arden Road home that has been used for films dating back to the Marx Brothers' "Duck Soup" in 1933.
The film fight has pitted neighbor against neighbor, well-off against wealthy. For its part, the City Council last month rejected new filming rules after some residents complained they weren't strict enough.
The city staff is devising new, stricter rules that are set to go to the council in about two months, after the California Film Commission reviews them.
The city's current filming boom is about two years old, movie industry insiders say. After years of allowing 50 days of filming yearly per location, Pasadena cracked down in the 1970s, Morton said. Film location managers began avoiding the city, said Jim Thompson, president of Real to Reel, a Los Angeles film location company with 40 Pasadena locales in its listing of 2,000 county filming spots.
But after then-Gov. George Deukmejian created the California Film Commission in 1985 to woo back companies who were filming out of state, Pasadena began to change. That same year, the city hired its first film coordinator. Penn, who previously worked for West Hollywood, is Pasadena's third film coordinator.
Last year, the city earned more than $290,000 from the 363 filming permits issued. Pasadena charges $300 daily for permits on private property and $400 for city-owned property. Crews can spend up to six days every three months at one house, with more time if neighbors approve.
The $5-million boost to the city's economy comes from the sale or rental of hotel rooms, food, equipment and other services to production companies, Penn said.
While other areas, such as Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, set the mood for music videos, Pasadena is a backdrop for commercials, television and movies.
"Batman's" television digs and some of the "Murder She Wrote" locales are well-known South San Rafael Avenue homes. Crews from television's "Father Dowling Mysteries" and "Dynasty" filmed in Morton's house. And movies, such as "Arachnophobia" and "The Witches of Eastwick," have used Pasadena sites.
Sharp-eyed television viewers also can pick out Pasadena in commercials for Hallmark greeting cards, Maxwell House coffee, Honda cars, Weight Watchers, Sparkletts drinking water, McDonald's restaurants and a dozen banks.