VENTURA — Manhattan or Los Angeles? Edward Duffy will take Ventura, thank you.
As location manager for the hit TV series "Melrose Place," Duffy can tell horror stories about trying to get routine shots on the streets of Los Angeles. "Everyone is so jaded there," he says. "No one wants to cooperate."
Not so in Ventura. "When you find a fresh area like this, it makes everything so much easier." Here, neighbors don't try to extort cash from him for shooting on their street, and when he needed a certain "institutional" looking shot, Ventura College opened its doors to him, quickly, and without hassle.
Because of this atmosphere and because the beach house regularly shown on "Melrose" is just down the road at Oxnard Shores, Duffy says he is in town looking for good sites at least once an episode. The Ventura Pier was featured in a recent episode.
Ventura is getting a reputation among Hollywood location scouts, managers and post-production people as an inexpensive, friendly place to do business. And that's exactly what city officials hoped for when they streamlined their permitting process into a one-page, one-stop operation last September.
The results are tangible: There were eight film projects in Ventura in 1995. "Since December, we've had 14 projects," said Richard Newsham, the city's community relations official who works directly with production managers.
It's not the permit fees--$150 for a day or $250 for unlimited time, lower than industry standards--that the city covets. It's the larger impact a film project has on the community.
"Film crews fill the hotels; they fill the restaurants. I think the Doubletree Hotel was booked almost a whole month when Sandra Bullock was here," said community relations spokeswoman Debbie Solomon. It's also an image thing.
When Bullock rolled into town in February to film "Making Sandwiches," a short film that she wrote and starred in, tourists and locals lined Seaward Avenue to watch as the crew filmed at Beachside Pizzaria. A lot of them ate lunch, too.
"They rented our back porch out for the whole 50-person crew about four times," said Joanna Lopez-Rojas, co-owner of the Joannafina's Mexican Cafe on Seaward. "It was excellent for business." She said Bullock still often drives up to take friends to the restaurant.
Location manager Shannon McMahon said they stumbled onto the Pierpont area because they liked the name "Seaward," and took that freeway exit.
Even Disney has come to town. Crews were at the downtown courthouse recently filming parts of "Dangerous Minds," a TV pilot. Location manager Lisa Stewart said the city's cooperation in letting the crew park, store equipment and take over a few rooms for the day was invaluable to the project, and left her with a lot of goodwill toward Ventura as a site for future projects.
"The town is so film-friendly that it really makes sense to film there," she said. "I cannot imagine the filming going so well in Los Angeles."
More and more movie crews are starting to think so. Although nobody knows in advance where a scene will take place, location scouts and managers agree that a cheaper, hassle-free scene is a huge draw. Not only does it make a project easier, "it makes it possible," said Stewart.
All this movie stuff isn't entirely new to Ventura and surrounding cities. Located 60 miles up Pacific Coast Highway from Hollywood, a few producers and directors have been stumbling into town since the birth of the movies.
In the 1920s, a then-obscure actor named Rudolph Valentino stood among the dunes on a desolate Oxnard beach, wrapped in Arab robes. The film? "The Sheik."
Real estate hucksters were quick to use this and other movies being filmed here as a lure. They proclaimed the area "Hollywood Beach" and started selling sandy lots for $200 to Los Angelenos who wanted a chance to see their favorite stars up close. The stretch of beach never became the promised movie-land mecca, but at least the name stuck.
Today, the star-struck would do well to hang around downtown Ventura or other selected city sites to glimpse a luminary or two.
Nicholas Cage, recently awarded an Oscar for Best Male Actor for his role in "Leaving Los Vegas," was just in Ventura filming an upcoming movie with Sean Connery, "The Rock."
The area has attracted its share of post-production work as well. Warner Bros., Sony Pictures and Castle Rock came to Ventura when they needed an extra scene or a reedit before finalizing a project, including for such films as "How to Make an American Quilt," "The End" and "Matinee."
Less glamorous, but just as essential to Hollywood, is the perpetual stream of commercial shoots. Ventura draws a lot of automobile makers and breweries. Rolling Rock Beer recently shot a "chicks-in-bikinis" type commercial at the Ventura Pier.
But tourist gawks aside, Ventura is hoping for something a little more substantial to come from all of this. "Long-term, our goal is to get the production jobs themselves up here," said David Kleisch, Ventura's economic development director.
And, with their collective eye ever on the prize, city officials have waived the permit fee for student filmmakers. "When they go on to become producers, we want them to remember us," said Solomon.