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Disney film among last to be shot at old Marineland


Disney's Favorite Scumbag
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Disney film among last to be shot at old Marineland
By Nick Green

LOS ANGELES (Daily Breeze) -- For the 1991 Charlie Sheen spoof “Hot Shots!” the site of the defunct Marineland aquatic park in Rancho Palos Verdes was transformed into a faux aircraft carrier, 280 feet long and 200 feet wide, complete with four military jets and a helicopter.

For the 2000 theatrical version of the 1970s kitsch classic “Charlie's Angels,” the 102-acre locale became the ruins of a pseudo-Spanish fort made of foam.

And for the Disney film “Hidalgo,” now shooting on the dramatic ocean bluff, it is both the port of New York circa 1890 complete with a 350-foot-long ocean liner “floating” on 3 feet of water and a faithful replica of a soccer field-size arena used for Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

“After reviewing the film permits issued during the past few years, `Hidalgo' is one of the larger, if not the largest, film sets constructed in Rancho Palos Verdes,” said Gina Park, the city's film permit coordinator.

The sets are taking up most of Marineland's two old parking lots, which are nine and four acres in size, said Janet Stearns, property manager for the company that owns what's also known as Long Point.

Still, there's plenty of room for the 220 crew members, up to 500 extras and 60 horses, said Marina del Rey resident Ira Stanley Rosenstein, the film's location manager, who also worked at Long Point during filming for Michael Jordan's 1996 movie “Space Jam.”

`Like a small city here'

“This place is so big we built a (temporary) 7-acre parking lot,” Rosenstein said on a recent tour of the elaborate sets, the rich smell of freshly cut wood wafting in the breeze. “Everything is self-contained. It's like a small city here.”

“Hidalgo” is based on the real-life story of renowned endurance rider Frank T. Hopkins, played by rising star Viggo Mortensen, who was Aragorn/Strider in “Lord of the Rings” and was named one of the world's 50 most beautiful people by People magazine earlier this year.

Hidalgo was Hopkins' horse in a real 3,000-mile race across the Arabian desert. The movie traces his journey from a rider in the Buffalo Bill show to participant in the grueling contest, with shooting scheduled for Montana, South Dakota and Morocco in addition to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

With a reported budget of as much as $50 million, the film is Disney's major summer release next year. The crew includes such industry heavyweights as producer Casey Silver, former chairman of Universal Pictures, and director Joe Johnston of “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” and “Jurassic Park III.”

But the real stars, as far as locals are concerned, are the large sets, partially visible from Palos Verdes Drive South. The four-story-high ship's smokestack is a historically accurate scaled-down replica of an actual vessel built in 1889 called The City of Paris. And the wild west show includes cowboys and Indians, buffalo and simulated pistol shots.

Curious residents have watched the sets taking shape since late May. Others are trekking to the area for a peek at the location shooting, which began Aug. 6 and continues through Monday.

“Most of the residents in the area are happy to have this movie going on,” Stearns said. “It's exciting and they get to view it from their front yards or decks. When they see the movie they can say, `that was filmed (practically) in their back yard.' ”

Which is precisely what drew San Pedro residents Adriana Ojalvo and her 10-year-old daughter Marilyn to the Point Vicente Fishing Access area near Long Point on the way back from soccer practice one recent afternoon.

“When you see the movie you're like, `Oh, I saw that,' ” said an excited Marilyn. “There's so many movies (shot) over here. I think it's a very good place to make a movie.' ”

Marilyn is right, said Rosenstein and Stearns, ticking off the site's attributes.

It's secluded, yet there's plenty of room. Cool ocean breezes offer cast and crew a respite from hotter inland shooting locations, but it's relatively close to Hollywood.

“This would be the perfect place for a movie studio,” Rosenstein said. “This is one of the few places in Southern California with a clear horizon.”

It's for those reasons that the film industry has always had close ties to Long Point, a relationship immortalized on a wall at Stearns' offices, which are dotted with photographs of the numerous movies shot there.

Comedienne Lucille Ball shot television shows at Marineland.

Parts of Lauren Bacall's 1957 comedy “Designing Woman” were shot at the theme park, where she also bought hubby Humphrey Bogart a starfish from the gift shop.

And that was the theme park's old pier that appeared at the end of every episode of Lloyd Bridges' television show “Sea Hunt” during its three-year run from 1958 to 1961 as his character's vessel headed toward the horizon.

During the 1970s, the 20th Century Fox movie studio leased the theme park and in 1977 it was sold for $5 million to corporate owners whose holdings included cartoon producer Hanna-Barbera.

A victim of declining attendance, Marineland closed in 1987.

But its Tinseltown connection continued unabated as its owners sought to keep income flowing even while planning a yet-to-be-built luxury resort on the site.

Parts of the 1989 film “Lethal Weapon II,” starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, were shot there.

New England and beach bikinis

The bluff came to resemble a tiny part of New England in 1991 when scenes for the Harrison Ford-vehicle “Patriot Games” were filmed there.

Bikini-clad beach babes frolicked there in 1997 when MTV transformed the vacant property into its “Motel California” for the summer.

And an entire fake cul-de-sac of suburban home facades rose on the point during the filming of the 2001 Kevin Kline movie “Life as a House.”

Aside from their novelty value, movies don't generate a lot of cash for city coffers. Filming fees bring in about $30,000 a year — mainly for commercials and advertising photo shoots — although the critically panned Norm Macdonald comedy “Screwed” — shot in another part of Rancho Palos Verdes — resulted in almost $80,000 worth of fees last year.

The owners of Marineland benefit more, taking in more than $100,000 annually, company officials said. And the telephone is “ringing off the hook” from other companies seeking to use the site, Stearns said.

With Los Angeles sound stages booked, Long Point is valuable to the industry, Rosenstein said. Still, “Hidalgo” is likely one of the final films to be shot there.

At the same time its sets are torn down, workers will begin to erect sets for “The Pirates of the Caribbean,” an action-adventure starring Johnny Depp based on the popular Disneyland theme park ride of the same name.

But after that nothing else is scheduled and later this month the City Council is expected to finally approve the $200 million Long Point resort. Presumably, bulldozers will move in shortly thereafter.

“Hidalgo” crew members already are lamenting the loss of the site. Among them are production designer Barry Robison, who selected Long Point because the sea mist that often rolls in late in the day provides an atmosphere similar to the East Coast.

His intricate, historically accurate sets — Wild Bill Cody's tent sports a mounted buffalo head over the door and even monogramed towels — make Robinson the envy of his peers.

In a recent interview, he waxed nostalgic about the location.

“There are not many areas in and around L.A. that are like this,” he said. “It will be a loss for me — I'll be very sad. It's been a wonderful experience being here — it's magic creating something like this.”

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