Lights, camera, spiders: Filming 'Arachnophobia' in Cambria

Posted by David Middlecamp on October 17, 2013 

Cuesta students Larissa Martin, left, and Sharon Smith make like cheerleaders with film star Jeff Daniels standing in the background during the filming of Arachnophobia in Cambria. ©Telegram-Tribune/Jeff May

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What could go wrong in Canaima? How about an invasion of South American killer spiders? Jeff Daniels and John Goodman are among the stars of the Disney film "Arachnophobia" filmed in Cambria in 1990. The horror/comedy will be screened at the Cambria Vets Hall, ironically a location that turned down the filmmakers when they were looking for places to shoot. It is sixth "SLO County on the Silver Screen" event to celebrate the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival's 20th anniversary. The screening will be Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. More details at their website.

Telegram-Tribune reporter Jill Duman wrote this story on Feb. 5, 1990:

Local movie extras find the grit behind the glitz

Picture Canaima, an all-American small town on a Saturday morning. Clean-cut kids, clapboard homes, and a tiny high school that looks a lot like Cambria's Coast Union. Add about 100 cars, trucks and trailers and an army of movie professionals and you have the true Canaima, a fictional town created solely for the Disney movie "Arachnophobia" — a thriller starring Jeff Daniels.

Tangled Web Productions is wrapping up its third week of filming "Arachnophobia" in Cambria. From There, filming of the movie, scheduled for release in June, moves to a Los Angeles studio stage. But for dozens of teens from Coast Union and Cuesta College, Saturday proved a once-in-a-lifetime chance to witness the glamour — and drudgery — of filmmaking in action.

Saturday's shoot involved just two short scenes — on the football field and in the locker room of Coast Union High. Shooting began before 7 a.m. and finished a little after 7 p.m. — all for a little less than 10 minutes of film.

"I thought people would come around and put makeup on you — but they don't really care," said Darsy Weakley, a recent Coast Union grad, recruited as a spectator for the football scene. Later, in rue Hollywood style, Weakley is grabbed and made up by the Tangled Web crew, her status elevated from mere background to the girlfriend of one of the players.

Judith Bouley of Central Coast Production Services in Santa Cruz used a variety of methods to recruit local extras for "Arachnophobia." In addition to soliciting mail-in applications and photos for the crowd scenes, she also visited students on the Coast Union High campus and explained what she was looking for.

"I like getting a mixed look," explained Bouley. "I don't want a movie full of glamorous-looking people. I want regular-looking people, like you and me."

Once Bouley has her quota of ordinary people, she has to explain the rules and realities of filmmaking. With the cost of the day's filming running at about $50,000, rules are important. Pay for extras is $60 a day — $400 a day if there's a speaking part. Meals are included. In exchange, directions have to be followed. There is no talking on the set. And the days are going to be long.

"They really have to be people who want to be with us," said Bouley. "People who can reach down and find that energy when we're eight hours into the day."

Tapping that energy isn't always easy.

"You wait around for five hours and you shoot for maybe ten minutes," said Sharon Smith, a Cuesta College student and Central Coast Model and Talent recruit who appears briefly as a cheerleader in the film. "You can't leave. You just have to stand there."

"It takes so much. To make one little part takes all day," said Julie Retzlaff, a Coast Union High junior, who sat in the football bleachers as an extra.

Saturday's scene featured the sudden demise of a high school football player — played by Nathanial Spitzley — in the middle of a football scrimmage. Members of the Coast Union team were filmed on the football field in action — a scene that kept Coast Union senior Jake Preston on his feet for more than six hours.

"We shot the football scene from about 8 a.m. til about 2 p.m.," said Prestion. "There was a lot of standing around, and a lot of doing the same thing over again."

And, what is done over, must be done again in exactly the same way. That's where professionals like Julie Pitkanen come in. Pitkanen is the "Arachnophobia" script supervisor. It's her job to make sure that everything — props, film angles and actor positions — match from scene to scene. Helping Pitkanen were a crew of still photographers, who periodically ran onto the set to snap Polaroid shots of the action in progress. Dave Powell, a dresser, judiciously applied dirt and sod to players to keep their costumes uniformly smudged.

A second scene filmed Saturday afternoon and evening in the Coast Union locker room went more smoothly, said Preston, who can't wait to see the team on the screen. "We're all going to see it together."

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