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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

In Ventura, That's a Wrap--and a Rap

Filming: Main Street businesses tally losses or tout visits by star John Travolta, as crowds stay until the bitter end hoping for a glance.

November 11, 2000|MATT SURMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — This was Haley Ferguson's last chance. Her mom got a wave, all her friends got autographs. But, now, here it was the last day of "Swordfish" filming, before all the movie guns and shot-up police cars got packed up and hauled back to Hollywood, and she still hadn't had a John Travolta experience to call her own.

"I don't want to just buy an autograph. I want one personally," the Ventura resident said, holding baby Casey up on her shoulders for a better view of the wreckage splintered across the corner of Main and Oak streets. "And I've already been here an hour and a half."

But Ferguson knows that doesn't compete with some of the others. Kids who came here every day after school for the three weeks since filming began. Grandmas who brought their grandchildren for daylong views. And merchants who, whether they liked it or not--and some vehemently didn't--had a full-time, front-row seat for the action. All were out in force to say goodbye Friday.

"It's going to feel empty," said a wistful Beverly Brewer, who manages Cabinets Unlimited on Main Street. "It's been really nice."

Some, however, probably were thinking, 'Good riddance.' "

City officials "told us it was going to be a party in the streets" during filming, said Mike Clancy, owner of the Main Street Antique Mall. "It'll be a party in the streets the minute they're gone."

Clancy and a handful of other merchants filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against Warner Bros., hoping to stop the filming. They crowded Monday's Ventura City Council meeting to demand reparations for what they lost. Clancy said he is suing the city, because Mayor Sandy Smith insinuated that some merchants are "gougers," though he promises to give any winnings to the Boys & Girls clubs.

"We're happy to get 'em out of here," said Steve McGuire, owner of Heirloom Antiques Mall, who added that he didn't think his headache was over. He said he had lost $35,000 over the course of construction and filming, and he would have to open his books and three years of tax returns to the studio's accountants to prove his losses.

While he acknowledged that business has been good for some, he has had "$8, $12, $30 days, when I'm used to $1,000," he said. "It's divided neighbors here."

To be truthful, it's not completely over. The explosions, Humvees and bloodied extras will be gone. But crews will begin building restoration Monday, a process that could take at least a month. Warner Bros. has told merchants that all the facades on buildings on Main Street, and the trash bins used to collect them, will be gone before Thanksgiving.

City film liaison Skip Robinson said it's still too early to figure the financial impact of the filming, but that the studio had spent $100,000 to cover permit fees, traffic control, police protection and other services. He believes the visit has been good for business and is a potential tourist attraction.

Indeed, the owner of Golden China was proud to point out a visit by John Travolta to his restaurant. Anacapa Brewing Co. reported good sales from hungry film crews. And Brewer said that although business hasn't been particularly good for her, she hopes the good tourist vibes will last.

The movie brought Santa Barbara friends Jonathan DiBenedetto and Tristan Voehl, both 16, who took advantage of a Veterans Day school holiday to go to Ventura. They said they wished they could have come on a more fiery day.

"I thought I was going to see exploding cars," Tristan said.

For LeeAnn Weatherford, 14, who has visited the set every day after school, the end of filming is a little more personal. She knows some of the production assistants by name and counts them among her friends, she said.

"It's fun and nice and entertaining," the Ventura High School freshman said. And, tomorrow, when it's all over? "I guess I'll just go shopping again."

With dozens of others, she stood behind a line of yellow police tape, within smelling distance of police cars, from which smoke--its scent reminiscent of church incense--spiraled through the morning.

She was among those watching for co-star Halle Berry, who has kept a relatively low profile compared with Travolta's willingness to meet and greet.

"I saw her last night," she said. "She just waved from her car, but it was hard to see her, because it was dark."

Film opponent Clancy got a lucky--if you can call it that--view of the shy star.

"I just saw her half an hour ago," Clancy said, "and it didn't do anything for me."

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