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Getting O.C. a Piece of the 'Action!' : Cristi Silverberg Will Lead the Effort to Give the County a Bigger Role in the Movies

July 28, 1994|NANCY WRIDE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ORANGE — If your stick-em pads are in color-coded piles on your desk and you hate it when somebody throws you a curve ball and suddenly wants you to find a place to dry-clean 200 pounds of hockey uniforms, and somebody else calls frantic and says, "Oh, by the way, could you find us 200 hotel rooms tonight for our entire film crew because we forgot" . . . well, then, you would not want Cristi Silverberg's job.

As Orange County's director of the newly funded Orange County Film Office, Silverberg spends a lot of time reacting to assorted near-disasters. But now that the county has decided to spend some money to make some money off the movie business, Silverberg should have the time and funds to attract more film productions like "Clear and Present Danger" and "North," summer releases that were shot, in part, locally.

What all this means is that government leaders think such showcasing will put us on the map and bring more tourist dollars, besides the dough spent by film crews at hotels, restaurants, catering companies and the like.

Wooing Hollywood, then, is Orange County's new game plan, and Silverberg will lead the effort.

Last month, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to bankroll a film office that will try attracting more television and motion picture productions to the county, budgeting $242,500 for the next three years. That includes Silverberg's salary and her office space at the Orange County Chamber of Commerce, which will also throw in some funding.

No more sitting back and waiting for the lucky day when the phone rings with Buick on the line wanting help to find a big clean stretch of highway for a car commercial.

Silverberg's job now is to actively court the entertainment industry by marketing the county's potential as a backdrop--and its new willingness to be film-friendly. She will also be aiming to streamline the permit process for film crews by working closely with the county's city governments, starting with a workshop Wednesday at the Waterfront Hilton for city administrators called "Film Production in Your Community."

Every time Orange County is used as a backdrop to a car commercial or a TV movie it means money: permit fees and bed tax to the county or city, and other lodging and food bucks to businesses. In approving the new film office funding, the Board of Supervisors pointed to a county report showing that film crews spent $27 million in San Diego County last year, contrasted with a paltry $200,000 in Orange County.

But nothing that couldn't be quick-changed by a blockbuster series, say Placentia 92670.

Silverberg laughs, but she knows well that a show like "Simon and Simon," with its San Diego Zoo plot lines and La Jolla backdrops, is money in the bank.

For now, she remains completely un-starstruck. On the set of the "Clear and Present Danger," a suspense making its debut next month and starring Harrison Ford and John Wayne Airport, Silverberg almost asked Harrison Ford how to find . . . Harrison Ford.

"I was staring right at him, and I was about five feet away, and I said, 'Gee, I wonder what Harrison Ford looks like in this. Has anyone seen him?' " she says, laughing. "He did seem to get a kick out of that."

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As for movies, she rarely sees anything but animated or Disney--except those with Orange County scenery, of course.

A 32-year-old single mother, she has long but accommodating hours that start at 7:30 a.m. She usually leaves her office in The City shopping center in Orange by 5 p.m. and has an hour to exercise or ride at the stable before picking up her 4-year-old son at preschool.

Up until now, if someone wanted to shoot a commercial or movie in Orange County, they would have to secure permits from each city involved.

"Pick up a phone and call any city to just ask, who do you call? You can spend hours just trying to find that out, and then that person's gonna be on vacation," said Glen Everroad, revenue manager of Newport Beach, whose office handles the city's film permits. Last year, the city hosted 122 days of filming.

"A lot of cities, I think, just don't see the benefit. But there is $4 billion in film dollars leaving the state of California because bureaucrats such as myself can't accommodate their needs. . . . We can turn around a permit some days in 30 minutes, but in (the city of) Orange, they want two weeks still."

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For several years, Silverberg has been working for the county Environmental Management Agency, one of two people handling public relations matters for the director. When the county's public information office was eliminated, its tasks of coordinating with the film industry were turned over to the EMA; it made sense that EMA, which handles public property permits, would absorb the processing of applications by production companies for film permits.

"I personally think she's very competent and really has a love for film," said Kay Smoot, an EMA planner for whom Silverberg briefly worked, "so she really puts her all behind the job."

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