Filming on the Central Coast presents own challenges

Catholic movie about Father Serra is marked by bursts of activity and then long pauses

ktanner@thetribunenews.comJune 30, 2013 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Las Cambritas Mexican restaurant in Cambria.

Ah, the joys of weekend filming on the North Coast. Faced with a last-minute actor vacancy in the ranks of spear carriers, the casting manager for a five-part series about Father Junipero Serra's founding of the California missions wound up drafting Julio Lopez from his cooking job at Las Cambritas Mexican restaurant in Cambria.

But for the most part, the filming Saturday of the series’ final scenes went like most on-site productions — bursts of frenzied taping followed by prolonged pauses.

About 60 cast and crew members and 20 spirited horses gathered on the hilly, forested Covell Ranch under the direction of award-winning producer/director/writer James Kelty of Cambria. It’s the second series that Kelty has created for the global Catholic Network EWTN.

The Serra series is set to run Nov. 20-24 — with the last day marking the 300th anniversary of Serra’s birth in Petra Mallorca in 1713.

The entire Serra production has been filmed in about 18 months at sites in Mallorca, Spain, and California — including the Wagner Ranch in Arroyo Grande, the Lady Washington tall ship when it was in Morro Bay in February and the Mission San Antonio de Padua in Jolon.

Kelty said they also filmed actor Julio Mora from San Luis Obispo and Mexico portraying Serra on Fiscalini Ranch Preserve trails in Cambria. Those scenes included the priest-professor-explorer’s “famous sighting of the supply ship that saved the expedition March 19, 1770” — what Kelty called the high point of the series.

During Saturday’s production, the pauses in filming created some striking contrasts, such as when young men in feathered headdresses, ceremonial body and face paint and the Native American equivalent of grass skirts were standing in the shade of a tree, wearing combat-boot-like shoes and drinking soda pop from a can.

Kelty said the final Cambria shoot included “interpreting the Portola and Rivera expeditions through Baja to San Diego in 1769 (two separate parties a month apart) … and the separate, so-called Portola Expedition from San Diego up the coast to find Monterey in 1769-1770.”

The director-producer said that on the latter, expeditioners “came through Cambria and called it Osito because the American Indians gave them a bear cub. They probably camped near (what’s now) the high school. They failed to find Monterey but did discover San Francisco Bay, a much bigger prize.”

Kelty estimated that, in the final cut, the most recent Cambria footage, with interviews added, would last about 20 minutes.

For more about the Serra series, go to and search for “Serra300trailer.”

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