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Airport '93--The End? : Filming Location at Van Nuys Field May Have Its Wings Clipped


Vietnam, late 1960s. A pretty blonde American has just arrived at the Saigon Airport to investigate her husband's death amid the turmoil and misery of that war-torn country.

A frenzied crowd shuffles her out of the terminal and into a bustling street, where noisy Army jeeps and men and women on bicycles stream past.

She looks confused. A cabdriver rushes to her side and escorts her to a waiting cab.

They drive away.

Suddenly, a voice shouts "Cut!" and in a few hours, work crews pack up the tropical bushes, fake palm trees and other props from around the terminal building, returning it to its former identity: a vacant, aging Van Nuys Airport hangar.

Thus ended the latest day of filming at the former Air National Guard base at the airport, one of the San Fernando Valley's most popular motion picture and television filming locations. The movie, "Message from Nam," was the latest of more than 30 movies filmed at the airport over the past 60 years.

In the past two years, the airport has generated about $781,000 in filming fees, most from productions--such as "Last Action Hero" and "In the Line of Fire"--filmed at the former National Guard headquarters. The site has been mostly vacant since the National Guard relocated to Point Mugu in April, 1990.

But the income the site earns the city Airport Department in filming fees is likely to drop in the future because the city plans to temporarily house some police, fire and general services helicopters in former National Guard hangars. The helicopters are now crowded into another site on the same airport.

It is unclear when the helicopters will be moved into two large hangars on the 62-acre property because city officials are still studying the cost of refurbishing the buildings before they can be occupied.

Terry Luera, a senior administrative analyst for Los Angeles, said she did not know when the move would take place.

Meanwhile, airport officials are considering the long-term future of the National Guard site as they draft a master plan to guide development at the 725-acre airport over the next 20 years.

Suggestions from residents and tenants for use of the National Guard property include building an aviation museum, industrial park, retail shopping area, police station or additional tie-down space for small aircraft.

There have been no suggestions to leave the site vacant for filming.

Location scouts and other industry experts say the city's entertainment industry would lose an inexpensive and accessible filming location if the National Guard site were no longer available.

"It would be just another nail in the coffin" for the film industry, said Greg Sullivan, chairman of the Assn. of Film Location Services and president of American Film Location Co.

Sullivan said he has often recommended filming at the airport because it is nearby and much cheaper than renting space from a sound studio, which he said usually requires that film companies also hire the studio's in-house lighting technicians at high rates.

He said a sound stage about the size of one of the National Guard hangars would cost about $1,500 per day to rent. But according to an airport fee list, the former National Guard hangars--barnlike structures as capacious as many sound stages--rent for about $720 per day, plus additional charges for services such as police and parking.

Charles Weisenberg, director of the city's film and television liaison office, said Van Nuys Airport is an appealing filming location because film companies usually only need one permit, issued by the airport director.

He said acquiring permits to film elsewhere in the city, such as a park, can be more complicated, requiring several clearances, such as street closure and Fire Department permits.

Airport noise is usually not a problem, Weisenberg added, because most film companies dub in the sound later. Airport hangars make particularly attractive film stages because the large amount of room allows for many dramatic camera angles, he said.

Movie-making has a long history at the airport, dating to the 1930s when it was the location for films such as "Lost Horizon" with Ronald Colman and Jane Wyatt, and "Test Pilots" with Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy.

But the airport is probably most often recalled as the location for part of the classic final scene of "Casablanca," in which Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman play World War II lovers saying goodby on an airport runway. Bogart tells Bergman that "the lives of two people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."

In reality, the foggy Moroccan runway portrayed in the 1942 movie was created, for the most part, on a sound stage at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank. Exterior shots of a plane were filmed at the airport and spliced into the sound stage footage, but Bogart and Bergman were not filmed at the airport.

On Location

Scenes from dozens of movies and television shows have been filmed at Van Nuys Airport. A brief sampling:

MOVIES 1930s "Lost Horizon" "Test Pilots" "Men With Wings" "Storm Over the Andes" "Sky Bride" 1940s "Casablanca" 1970s and '80s "Foxfire" "The Presidio" "Midnight Run" 1990s "Hot Shots!" "For the Boys" "Forever Young" "The Bodyguard" "Patriot Games" "Last Action Hero" "In the Line of Fire"

TELEVISION "Dynasty" "Candid Camera" "Unsolved Mysteries" "MacGyver" "Santa Barbara" "Quantum Leap"

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