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Filming Is Thrill for Fans, Headache for Store Owners

October 21, 2000|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — Expensive SUVs smashing through a wall of glass.

It seemed simple enough to the hundreds of film fans who spent hours crammed behind yellow tape along downtown's Main Street on Friday to catch the filming of an action scene in "Swordfish," starring John Travolta and Halle Berry.

Three black-and-gray Hummers, military-style vehicles, would crash through a glass and metal facade designed to look like a modern bank building. And indeed, when it all went down about 12:30 p.m. on the second day of local filming, it was over in a flash.

On cue, the vehicles plowed through the glass, one after another. The glass made a sharp popping sound, shattering into thousands of small pebbles. Someone yelled cut. And the cleanup crew went in with brooms and started sweeping.

But behind the scenes, stuntman coordinator Dan Bradley was worried.

His team had a "nearly impossible" task: The Hummers, as measured from side mirror to side mirror, were 8 feet, 6 inches wide. The distance between the columns of the ersatz bank building was only 8 feet, 5 inches. That meant the first stunt driver, Richard Burdon, and those who followed, had to fit exactly between the columns, with their side mirrors collapsed.

After hours of setting up lights and other equipment, going over the plan and hosing down the streets, filming began.

The drivers made their approach, at 25 mph, but as they got to the glass they slowed down just a hair--too slow for Bradley's taste, and perhaps for the audience as well. As the glass rained on the street, the crowd cheered, but Bradley scowled and began rescheduling Take 2 of that scene for Monday.

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If the crowd Thursday was there for celebrity sightings and autographs, Friday's crowd--a bit heavier on the male fans--was there to see heavy action close up and the technical aspects of movie making.

"I saw John Travolta yesterday," said Marlene Paradis of Ventura. "Today, I want to see an explosion. You see it on TV all the time, but this time it's live. That makes it more exciting."

Store owner Larry Gieseking echoed the sentiment: "I want to see something blow up."

Production assistants said the scene will figure prominently in the film, which features Travolta as a former spy trying to persuade a computer hacker to steal billions of dollars from the U.S. government.

Next week's filming schedule holds the promise of more action. Early in the week, a helicopter scene is planned. And in the second half of the week, the crews plan a Hollywood-style explosion that will destroy this facade of the fictional Worldbanc. But this stunt is planned so as not to harm the structure of the vacant building behind it, or any surrounding shops.

Bradley said the explosion scene is more complex than Friday's car crash, and will involve several wire cables being draped across Main Street to harness stunt people who already are practicing back flips and other action moves to simulate being blown up.

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While most of Friday's onlookers were excited about the filming, a number of downtown store owners were not. A group of merchants went to court Friday morning in a failed bid to delay or stop the filming. Another merchant had been denied a similar request a day earlier.

They fear the crowds, equipment and blocked streets will keep shoppers away and cost them more in lost business in the coming weeks than Warner Bros. will be willing to pay them. To the city's relief, Judge Roland N. Purnell denied their request, said Deputy City Atty. Amy Albano.

"We feel this is in the city's interest to see it happen," Albano said. "It's a draw to downtown."

Although Main Street was crowded, many stores were empty. Tricia Kong, co-owner of Maison California furniture store, said she was trying to maintain a good attitude about the filming, but was worried about losing business in what is typically one of her busiest sales months.

"A couple days would be OK, kind of exciting," she said. "But three weeks is too long."

The production's filming permit runs through Nov. 10, although the crews are not scheduled to work on weekends.

Albano said even if onlookers don't shop immediately, they may notice a store for the first time while they are in the area and make plans to return. "It generates interest," she said.

City film liaison Skip Robinson said the filming won't cost taxpayers money. The film studio is expected to pay about $40,000 to cover permit fees, traffic control, police protection and other services.

Meanwhile, Robinson has asked Warner Bros. to keep track of all the money spent during the filming on local lodging, meals, employment, construction and other goods and services. Robinson said the city hasn't compiled such a list before, and he thinks it could be useful in swaying critics of local filming.

"We thought this would be an opportune time to measure the economic impact," he said.

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