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The Valleys' Supporting Roles : Hollywood keeps coming back to this area to find a wide variety of settings for movie and television production.

January 07, 1994|JEFF PRUGH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"A rock is a rock, a tree is a tree--shoot it in Griffith Park!"

--Abe Stern, film producer and uncle of Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Studios

At old Mission San Fernando, Jane Wyman marries Cesar Romero in the kind of ceremony that the mission's Franciscan fathers didn't exactly have in mind when they built the chapel back in 1797. This wedding is strictly make-believe, recorded by cameras for a 1986 episode of CBS-TV's "Falcon Crest."

"It even made the front page of the National Enquirer!" Kevin Feeney, the mission's business manager, recalls.

In the Antelope Valley, a few residents gather beneath a glitzy, Las Vegas-style marquee bearing the name of singer Vic Damone. They ask someone how they can obtain tickets to Damone's concert.

Alas, there are neither tickets nor concert. The marquee is a prop for the 1991 feature film "The Marrying Man," starring Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin.

In the San Fernando Valley community of Lake View Terrace, a medical facility turned film-and-TV set has served motion pictures such as "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" "Postcards From the Edge" and "Another 48 Hours"--not far, incidentally, from the scene of a video watched by millions around the world: the beating of Rodney G. King by Los Angeles police officers.

And on leafy Orion Avenue in Van Nuys--whose white picket fences, spacious lawns and shuttered Cape Cod houses have appeared in movies ("La Bamba" and "Big Trouble") and TV series ("Dallas" and "CHiPs")--a homeowner recalls an early morning when her teen-age son burst out the door on his way to school, only to be startled by cameras on the front porch shooting actor Peter Falk.

"Whoops! I guess I ruined your shoot," the youngster said apologetically.

Year after year, Hollywood comes calling--sometimes in a neighborhood near you. And three stars of the show are every bit as venerable and versatile as top-drawer character actors.

They are the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys, which have appeared in so many productions--from blockbuster films to TV series to videos to commercials--that they deserve their very own stars on the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard.

Indeed, the list of on-location sites--even predating ex-New Yorker Carl Laemmle's transformation of a 230-acre chicken ranch in 1914 to what is now Universal City--seemingly stretches as long as Hollywood Boulevard: Griffith Park ("Batman," "Bonanza," "Rebel Without a Cause"), the Van Nuys Airport ("Casablanca"), the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth ("Ben-Hur," "Rin Tin Tin"), Malibu Creek State Park, partly in Agoura ("M*A*S*H*," "How Green Was My Valley"), the Sepulveda Veterans Affairs Medical Center in North Hills ("Altered States," "Knots Landing"), East Palmdale Boulevard ("Radio Flyer"), and the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys ("Rising Sun," "Murder, She Wrote"), among myriad others.

Then, too, countless private residences and estates provide settings as dramatic as Mediterranean villas or Tudor mansions, which look as if they're in Connecticut or New Jersey. Or, many locations appear as perfectly mundane as the "Leave It to Beaver" set or any other house that might pass for Anywhere, U.S.A.

Each has been deployed again and again by producers and directors who often anchor their flings of fantasy in real-life, everyday places. There, production companies pay homeowners and landlords rental fees ranging from $250 to upward of $15,000 a day, noting that they'll probably have to rearrange walls, furnishings and sometimes even landscaping, but promising to restore all properties exactly to the way they were.

Actually, their work begins months earlier when scouts for the Los Angeles area's 40-odd location companies try to match real-life sites with those described in scripts. They bird-dog neighborhoods and study huge books of wide-angle color photos in quest of a perfect match. Example: One scout recently examined photos at Real to Reel Inc., a Los Angeles location agency, hoping to find what he called "a 1947 kitchen" for a work-in-progress titled "Roswell," about tales of UFOs landing near Roswell, N.M.

And whenever on-location shooting won't work, filmmakers rely on back lots and sound stages such as those at Universal Studios Hollywood, Warner Bros. and Walt Disney Corp. in Burbank or Santa Clarita Studios.

Or they turn to recycled locations such as the National Park Service's Paramount Ranch, deep in the hardscrabble hills of south Agoura and the setting for 1930s films such as "Adventures of Marco Polo" and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." Amid rickety facades that hark back to the wild, wild West, CBS-TV's "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" dominates production so much nowadays that Alice Allen, who issues permits to do film or TV work at the Paramount Ranch facility, quips, "The doctor is in residence here."

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