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REEL LIFE : Tribulations of Making Art on a Tight Budget : The cost of shooting on public property stalls a young filmmaker's project, on which he's already exhausted his savings.


Shooting for a locally produced feature film about the cultural conflicts faced by a Mexican-American medical student is on hold as the filmmaker scrambles for funds to complete his project.

"I've been working on this project for more than a year," said Simon Balderas, the producer and director of "Little Heart," a film about a young man's ambition and obligations to his family. "I've got $30 for next month's groceries. That's for me, my wife and daughter. I'm to the point now that I wonder what I'm going to eat."

Balderas has exhausted his own savings, but still has only gotten halfway through the film's $34,000 budget. Most of the interior shots are completed, but the picture is still missing the outdoor filming. Therein lies the rub.

Balderas said the cost of filming on city property, even in Ventura County where many independent producers come to save money, has stalled his project. Balderas' quandary is emblematic of many independent producers who, in order to get their vision onto celluloid, often have to save their best creativity for behind the camera.

"We're trying to cut corners any way we can," said Balderas, whose day job involves producing videos for the Ventura Unified School District's Project Vision. "We're trying to work around shooting on public grounds because with permits and the required insurance, the cost is $1,500 and $2,000 a day."

Half of the budget for the film would be spent on permits, he said.

"I'm trying to do the film entirely in the county. Other independents I talked to said just go out and shoot the stuff without permits, but I don't want to do that."

He's looking for private property to shoot the film on so he doesn't have to bother with the permit process. State property is a comparative bargain, but stipulations still plague his creative vision.

"If you want to shoot on the beach, you have to have liability insurance and then you have to pay the ranger's salary of $35 an hour plus overtime."

If it was a big special effects film with explosions and such, Balderas said he would understand, but he just wants to make a sensitive film about a young man, his ambitions and his obligations to his culture and his family.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. will be filming "Dark Territory," the latest Steven Seagal action adventure, Wednesday in and around Santa Paula. The film's scene will feature a dramatic train chase that spills over into the town. Warner Bros. had no problem coming up with the permit fees.

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