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Hollywood and Orange

Commerce: In an attempt to broaden the county's image and drum up entertainment industry business, the O.C. Film Commission will take location scouts on a tour of out-of-the-ordinary local sites.

May 14, 1996|DAVE WIELENGA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Strangely missing, almost weirdly absent, from the Orange County Film Commission's far-flung tour of "strange and weird places" is . . . well . . . anyplace especially strange or weird.

"We couldn't go everywhere," explained Debi Hausdorfer, the commission's director of marketing, who helped devise the tour and has heard her share of second guesses. "We did lots of brainstorming, researching and phone calling, adding places to the list and taking places off."

Among the stops on this weekend's itinerary for Hollywood location scouts: the Southern California Edison plant in Huntington Beach, the Discovery Museum in Santa Ana, the Lab anti-mall in Costa Mesa, the U.S. Marine Corps' blimp hangars in Tustin, the park and lake in Irvine, the biker hangout Cook's Corner in Portola Hills.

Eclectic? Certainly. Victorian-era Santa Ana and post-nuclear Costa Mesa pretty much bookend the 20th century fashion statement.

Ambitious? Exactly. This tour isn't about strange and weird. It's about movies and shakers.

Called the "Fam (as in 'familiarization') Tour," it's a promotional junket for location managers, the people who scout and oversee production sites for feature films, television shows, commercials and videos.

The Orange County Film Commission is attempting to lure to its 31 cities more filming--and the various financial windfalls that accompany the bright lights and big trailers of a Hollywood movie crew.

Reference to strangeness and weirdness is merely a new element in very traditional boosterism. It's part of the marketing strategy, a counterpoint to Orange County's life-on-white-bread reputation. And it's not as though the commission is lying or anything.

"We're going to show off places that location managers may not automatically think about when they think of Orange County," said Hausdorfer. "Most of them live in Los Angeles. They don't know the real Orange County behind the image. Usually, they think it's all Irvine-type residences . . . nothing against Irvine, of course."

Nearly two dozen location managers have confirmed for this weekend's show-and-tell, and some who noticed the commission's promise of a "strange and weird" experience are intrigued by the opportunity to test their preconceptions.

Steve Dayan, whose 12-year career as a location manager ranges from the TV series "Moonlighting" to feature releases such as "Home for the Holidays," "The Net" and "The Great White Hype," hopes to discover quirky exceptions to his mundane impression of the region.

"This trip is the only way I'm going to know where to find anything special that Orange County has to offer," said Dayan, who lives in Silver Lake.

Dayan recently used Medieval Times, the Buena Park amusement venue that pays tribute to jousting and gluttony, for scenes in Jim Carrey's new picture, "The Cable Guy."

Frawley Becker, a location manager for 15 years, already has the sort of "Twilight Zone" take on Orange County life.

"All of it sounds strange and weird to me," said Becker with a kidding chuckle.

Becker has some experience with eccentricity. His resume includes Richard Pryor's "Some Kind of Hero," John Candy's "Summer Rental" and the women's ensemble film "Steel Magnolias." But when Becker chose an Orange County site for his most recent project, the forthcoming "Jerry McGuire," starring Tom Cruise, it was the functional grandeur of John Wayne Airport in Costa Mesa.

Location managers, who spend their lives considering the world's potential camera angles, are grateful for assistance. During the past 10 years, they've been getting lots of it: Every state has established a film commission, helping streamline permit processes and soften disruptions.

The Orange County Film Commission was created two years ago, and, according to Hausdorfer, direct economic benefits from feature filming jumped from $220,000 to $2.5 million in the first year. In 1995 the commission helped attract 93 productions worth $4.1 million.

When indirect financial windfalls--such as hotels, dry cleaning, building supplies and extras--are factored in, Orange County's film business rises to around $10 million annually. Comparatively, Los Angeles rakes in around $3 billion.

Perhaps the strangest and weirdest hindrance to filming in Orange County is an invisible force field known as the Zone, a circle that emanates 30 miles from the center of Hollywood.

Any film site within the Zone is considered a local production. Any site outside the Zone is classified as a distant location, requiring studios to provide extra amenities, from transportation to hotel accommodations for the crew. Most of Orange County lies outside the Zone.

That wasn't an issue during the early days of movie making, when Orange County was practically a Hollywood back lot, strangely and weirdly able to impersonate just about anywhere in the world.

The San Juan Capistrano Mission was cast as old Spain in Orange County's first feature film, "The Two Brothers," directed by D.W. Griffith and starring Mary Pickford and Mack Sennett.

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