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Stargazers Out in Force as Movie Begins Filming

Entertainment: Locals play extras on the Travolta project in Ventura. The studio survives a merchant's legal challenge.


VENTURA — Crowds of eager fans jockeyed for better views of the stars, while the film crew bustled about adjusting lights and herding extras on the Main Street set.

Eventually, John Travolta emerged from a black sedan, flashed his smile and waved to fans.

"He is such a babe, and I have a crush on him," Ventura resident Erica Grower said. "I'm married and all, but my husband's at work."

Grower, nearly breathless with anticipation, clutched videotapes of Travolta's first two "Look Who's Talking" movies, hoping he might autograph them.

"I need somebody to go up with me because I'll probably faint," she said. "I just want to meet him so bad."

Grower was among hundreds of movie fans and curious onlookers who turned out Thursday for the first day of filming downtown of the action-thriller "Swordfish." Travolta plays a spy hired to persuade a computer hacker, played by Hugh Jackman, to help steal $6 billion in government money.

The Ventura scenes are centered along Main and Oak streets, where the old Bank of Italy building has been converted into the fictional Worldbanc and a second-hand bookstore across the street has been transformed into the Travelers Coffee Co.

Once the streets were sprayed with water to provide reflective lighting, the first scene was shot with Travolta and Jackman walking into the coffee shop. Outside, residents hired as extras traversed sidewalks and streets in well-choreographed patterns to provide a convincing backdrop to the interior shot.

The dozens of extras had either won contests or were friends and relatives of businesspeople who had been displaced by the filming project. Ventura residents will work as extras today as well, said Lisette St. Claire, director for Central Casting.

"Everybody here for these two days are local," said St. Claire, who placed people on the set largely based on their looks. Some people played office workers, while others rode skateboards in the scene.

For their efforts, the extras were paid minimum wage and received a catered lunch.

Before the show could go on, movie officials had to stave off a legal challenge from one of the downtown merchants affected by the street closures.

Paul Sevoian, owner of Sevoy Antiques, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Warner Bros. that alleged the filming is a public nuisance. Filming is scheduled to continue through Nov. 7.

On Thursday, Sevoian's request was rejected by Ventura County Superior Court Judge Roland Purnell, who ruled the merchant's demands were so vague they were unenforceable.

"Does the plaintiff want the project to stop and everything put back the way it was before?" Purnell asked. The judge suggested a better remedy would be for Sevoian to calculate his losses and seek damages after filming ends.

Meanwhile, three other antique-store owners have filed a request for a temporary injunction. Ventura attorney Tamara Green, who represents the three shops, wants the studio to negotiate contracts before filming continues.

"We don't want them to pack up and go away," Green said Thursday. "We want them to sit down and make a settlement agreement."

Ventura attorney J. Roger Myers, who represents Warner Bros., said the studio has tried to be fair to merchants but cannot be expected to pay damages up front.

"Warner Bros. is expecting to compensate losses, but they are not going to do it on speculation," Myers said.

The new case is scheduled to have a hearing today.

Also this morning, in one of the movie's more dramatic scenes, a Hummer is scheduled to crash through the glass front of the bank building. The window will then be replaced and cameras repositioned for a second Hummer crash Tuesday.

"They know exactly what's going to happen because their lives depend on it," said Ventura resident Mike Berry, one of two set medics.


Wilson is a Times staff writer, and Sherry is a correspondent.

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