Rush-hour traffic is mounting around the Hollywood City Hall roundabout as Dennis Pellarin strolls from his office toward the west side of the traffic circle during a recent afternoon. He approaches the two-story building that squats beside City Hall, and he unlocks a door to a flight of stairs.
Pellarin ascends the staircase and steps into a bit of Old Florida: the jailhouse used by the Hollywood Police Department until it was abandoned in 1974. The smell of decay permeates the air, and the sinking sun casts dark shadows in a place that long ago must have been even bleaker. Especially stark are four small cells at the end of a long hallway. Behind their thick iron bars, each cell holds two pairs of metal beds; it's doubtful that the four occupants would have had enough room to stand up at the same time.
"This is the real thing," Pellarin declares. The derelict jailhouse, he explains, exudes the authenticity and accessibility that filmmakers lust after in location shooting. In 2002, the makers of Three Blind Mice, a made-for-TV movie starring Brian Dennehy that's about an attorney defending a fellow veteran accused of killing three Vietnamese immigrants, used the prison for several scenes in which Dennehy's character talks to his client behind bars.
Indeed, the small town of Hollywood is an emerging mainstay for film production in South Florida, both because of its irresistible backdrops and its obliging attitude toward the film industry. The Hours, which is nominated for eight Academy Awards, prominently displays shots of the town. 2 Fast 2 Furious renovated an old gas station on A1A for filming last fall. The Farrelly brothers have agreed to shoot portions of their film Stuck on You, starring Matt Damon, in Hollywood. In late February, Comedy Central's Trigger Happy TV filmed a segment on the beach.
Not everyone in the city of 122,000 is thrilled at having big production trucks and roaring generators parked in their neighborhoods or traffic brought to a halt as cameras roll on a leading man. But so far, filmmakers, with a lot of help from the savvy Pellarin, have avoided the kind of burnout that afflicts frequently filmed neighborhoods in other cities.
"Hands down, Hollywood, Florida, is the easiest place on earth to shoot, no lie," says Sandy Lighterman, a Plantation-based freelance production manager and producer who worked on Three Blind Mice. "Dennis makes it so easy for everybody that it's a walk in the park. He goes over and above to help a scout find locations that they might not normally be looking for, to get access to places you normally wouldn't be able to get into. He clears the way for impossible situations, locations, parking."
Lighterman recalls learning about the old jailhouse when a location scout called and said, "You won't believe what Dennis found for us." She adds: "It was hard to get cleared for filming because it was dirty, and they [city facilities managers] didn't want anyone to shoot in there. He cleared the way."
Elizabeth Wentworth, the Broward County film commissioner, is often the first person location scouts contact. She doesn't hesitate to recommend Hollywood. "What the town is doing is putting services in place to support the industry," she explains. "That's an incentive in itself, because it saves on production time. By saving time, you're saving money. Each day working on a major movie costs $200,000 a day to shoot."
Pellarin's official title is director of the office of public communications, which is housed on the second floor of the library east of City Hall. "I always wanted to be a director in Hollywood" is his standard quip. He sits behind a horseshoe of a desk big enough for two people. The Canadian-born 53-year-old sports a bushy thicket of salt-and-pepper hair, thin mustache, and wire-rimmed glasses. On this day, he's crisp and energetic in khaki pants and a bright-blue, long-sleeved shirt with a tie. One wall holds framed posters for three movies, the centerpiece of which is an advertisement for Millennium, a 1989 film starring Kris Kristofferson on which Pellarin worked as assistant picture editor.
After graduating from college in Toronto in the early 1970s, Pellarin began working in film production as his hometown grew into a major site for location shoots. But his mother bought a condo in Hollywood in the 1980s, and Pellarin became attached to the area. He eventually moved there and continued to freelance in film. About six years ago, he took a job with Hollywood's parks and recreation department but gravitated instinctively toward work involving cable access, promotional videos, and public relations.
"I spent years and years in the industry working on features and documentaries, doing sound and picture editing," he says. "What I bring to the table is knowing how to talk their talk, and I know how the city operates, how we can make this work."
Located amid a sprawl of strip malls and suburbs, Hollywood offers an aesthetic that's cinematically enticing. "Downtown is very small, kind of like Anywhere, USA," explains Lighterman. "It has a mainstream kind of look. You can also find a lot of generic, Anywhere, USA, homes."
Hollywood's beach is also a favorite because wide stretches of sand adjoin a boardwalk, which is in turn flanked by storefronts. That's a configuration not found elsewhere in Broward County. About 60 percent of location shoots are done on the beach, Pellarin says. In fact, Pellarin's assistant interrupts at one point to inform him that the Miami-based entertainment news show Deco Drive wants to broadcast live from the beach during its 7 p.m. show on WSVN-TV.
"The city manager, mayor, and city commissioners are very supportive of the industry," Pellarin says. "They want more to come here. We want to make easy, one-stop shopping for production companies. But we also have to face the reality that we have to function, people have to live, and we don't want to disrupt them. So I think it's finding that balance."
The city gets no direct revenue from film shoots. But, Pellarin points out, cash flows in through the hotel rooms that production companies rent, the restaurants they frequent, the supplies they buy, and the residents they employ.
Brenda Chalifour, a lawyer with Save Our Shoreline and a frequent critic of the commission's support for big development in the city, considers location shooting a good idea, provided the city gets enough in return for the inconvenience. "I'm presuming they're using our backdrop because we have such a fabulous slice of paradise," she says. "To the extent that the city recognizes that and stops ruining it with all these high-rise developments and the like, then it all makes sense." But, she contends, the city's ambitious development plans, in contrast, threaten the very character that attracts moviemakers. "That doesn't seem to make much strategic sense," she says.
As to the inconvenience, good production companies know how to strike a balance, Pellarin contends. For example, when Denzel Washington was in town a few days last fall filming Out of Time in the beach area, neighbors were invited to the catered meals and had the chance to get photos taken of themselves with the actors, he says.
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The makers of The Hours chose Hollywood as a setting for some of its exterior shots because certain streets and homes have the look of 1950s California. For one shoot, the city had to close off a portion of Hollywood Boulevard near the Intracoastal bridge and reroute traffic through a normally sedate side street all day on a Sunday. The production company informed all residents about what was planned. Because residents on the boulevard couldn't use their driveways during the shoot, the company offered valet or shuttle service to get to their cars.
"We had maybe two people call and complain," Pellarin says. "One was that he couldn't get to the beach fast enough."
The East Coast's Hollywood is currently basking in the warm glow of The Hours and its Oscar nominations for best picture and director. From behind his desk, Pellarin opens the February edition of the Hollywood Reporter, a glossy trade magazine. He shows off a small ad he placed congratulating the makers of The Hours. The three photos in the ad, however, flaunt the city's variety: a vintage house from "old" Hollywood, the beach, and the modern architecture of the Diplomat Hotel.
"Film has an economic impact on any city, especially when the big companies come," Pellarin says. "When Three Blind Mice filmed here, the crew leased an office for three months. That was 20, 25 people eating every day, hanging out at the beach, buying supplies. We'd like more production companies to set up in Hollywood."