Lights! Camera! Action! Norco!
Yup. At least city officials hope so.
The city that Councilman Kevin Bash calls “nothing like any other place in California or the nation” is promoting itself to Hollywood as an ideal site to make movies, TV shows and commercials. And there’s a lot at stake.
Once a popular venue for filming westerns, Norco would like to parlay its considerable natural resources and other assets into an added source of revenue. Known as “Horsetown USA,” the city boasts 140 miles of horse trails, an equestrian center with two arenas, a quaint downtown with an Old West atmosphere and small ranches reminiscent of “Little House on the Prairie.”
The city recently updated its website with several pages that pitch film companies to consider Norco for their next project. It notes “a streamlined permitting process” and a “hassle-free experience.” Photos of suggested filming sites are included. Norco also is listed in a location scout book that the Inland Empire Film Commission uses to direct producers to potential sites.
Commission Director Sheri Davis lamented the exodus of major motion pictures to states — and countries — outside California. On the other hand, she said Norco’s unique character should attract filming of TV commercials and still photography. Other cities she works with include Palm Springs, Big Bear and San Jacinto.
Tom Freeman, who is Riverside County’s commissioner of foreign trade, also is working to attract film production to the county. He said filming a movie or TV show “can bring tremendous revenue” to a city.
Warner Bros. figures from 2011, he said, show that five days of shooting equates to about $3 million in sales and 167 temporary jobs.
“Studios need to purchase lots of products, particularly at local hardware stores,” Freeman said.
Restaurants, hotels and even gas stations benefit as well, he added.
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Roger Brody, economic development specialist for Norco, said the city, situated in northwest Riverside County, has plenty going for it.
“We’re near Los Angeles, we have lots of terrain where you can’t even see houses and you think you’re in the Old West,” Brody said. “We’re film-friendly and we’re cheap. You can film in Norco for up to four days for only $325.”
Other cities, he said, charge much more for just one day.
One liability is the city’s shortage of hotel rooms — 178 at last count at three spots, although a Fairfield Inn is expected to be built later this year. Freeman noted that lots of movie people, especially those with families, would prefer to commute from the Los Angeles area to Riverside County.
At the county level, the Board of Supervisors is working to simplify the myriad ordinances that regulate film production and to reduce the cost of making movies by waiving fees.
Beyond that, Freeman said, cities need to designate “a single point of contact” to help studios close streets, provide police and safety services and, in general, facilitate film production.
Once the county completes those revisions, he said, “we’re going to ask all 28 cities in the county to match our ordinance.”
Norco has a rich history as a site for movies made in the first half of the 20th century.
Household names such as Clark Gable, Mae West, George Montgomery and Randolph Scott starred, mostly in Westerns such as “Go West Young Man” and “Come and Get It,” both filmed near the Santa Ana River.
In the 1950s and ’60s, episodes of television series such as “Zane Grey Theater,” “Death Valley Days,” “The Fugitive” and “Harper Valley PTA” were shot in Norco.
In the past few years, cable TV has discovered the city, with “Master Chef,” “Small Town, Big Deal” and ‘Best of America by Horseback” shooting there.
In promoting itself, Freeman advised, Norco should think beyond its “Horsetown USA” slogan.
“Having horses isn’t enough,” he said, pointing to the Naval Surface Warfare Center, once the Lake Norconian Club, a 700-acre luxury resort that attracted Hollywood celebrities in the 1920s. After falling on hard times, it was purchased by the Navy and became a hospital after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
In 1962, 94 acres of that property were given to the State of California, which built the California Rehabilitation Center, initially an addiction treatment center and now a medium-security prison.
It’s a desirable site for filming, Bash said, but access is limited and requires special permits from agencies outside the city.
Norco’s most valuable asset, City Manager Beth Groves said, is that “we’re the real deal. We’re not a movie set or a façade.”
Follow Peter Fischetti on Twitter: @pfischetti_pe or online at http://blog.pe.com/corona/
A partial list of movies filmed in Norco, their stars and the locations:
1929: “Their Own Desire,” Norma Shearer. Filmed at the Norconian.
1930: “Love in the Rough,” Robert Montgomery. Filmed at the Norconian.
1930: “Top Speed,” Joe E. Brown. Filmed at the Norconian.
1933: “State Fair,” Will Rogers. Filmed at Ashcroft Ranch, a 3,000-acre cattle and citrus farm in the Norco hills.
1935: “Captain Blood,” Errol Flynn. Filmed on the west end of Norco.
1936: “Come and Get It,” Joel McCrea and Francis Farmer. Filmed near the Santa Ana River.
1936: “Go West Young Man,” Mae West and Randolph Scott. Filmed at the Santa Ana River.
1938: “Test Pilot,” Clark Gable and Myrna Loy. Filmed at the Norconian Airfield.
1953: “Charge at Feather River,” Guy Madison. Filmed at the Santa Ana River.
1970: “Norwood,” Glen Campbell, Kim Darby and Joe Namath. Filmed at the west end of Norco.
SOURCE: NORCO CITY COUNCILMAN KEVIN BASH