‘Real World’ settling in as neighbors weigh impacts of show
By Dave Schwab and Kathy Day
On a sunny Monday afternoon, the street in front of the 6,845-square-foot “oceanfront retreat” on Chelsea Avenue in Bird Rock where MTV reality show “The Real World” is being filmed was quiet.
“That’s because the police have been down here daily,” said Robert Asaro, a neighbor living across the street from the home, which he said is being rented for $45,000 a month to shoot the show.
The five-bedroom, six-and-a-half bathroom was listed several months ago by Willis Allen for $50,000 a month. One TV shot from a helicopter shows a life-size chess game — which replaced a tennis court — on the roof.
A staple of the MTV lineup, it focuses on the lives of a group of strangers who audition to live together in a house for several months as cameras record their interpersonal relationships. It is MTV’s longest-running show, now in its 26th season to air later this year, and considered to be a forerunner of the TV reality-show genre. The show has been picked up by MTV through its 28th season.
Details on the actual production are scarce, with Tamika Young, spokeswoman for MTV in New York City telling the Light on Monday, “At this time we are not commenting on anything regarding production of the season. This is standard protocol.” She said there was no scheduled airtime yet.
Asaro has been outspoken about his displeasure with the show being shot in his backyard.
“It’s inexcusable that the city should allow this without any consultation, any heads up, any reviews of what people think,” he said. “I think the policy must be changed immediately. They (city) should never be allowed to take it upon themselves to grant such permits without advising the community.”
Asaro’s next-door neighbor, John Bannon, clutching his infant son while answering the door, wasn’t nearly as impassioned as Asaro about the MTV show filming nearby.
“Traffic, noise, hasn’t been as big an issue as we thought,” Bannon said, though he added there is a downside. “Helicopters flying over day and night, a lot of speeding, kids coming up — just extra wear and tear on the neighborhood.”
Characterizing the show’s impact thus far as a “minor inconvenience,” Bannon nonetheless said he didn’t like the show’s premise.
“Drunken kids with their social-relation issues — I’d rather see the Discovery Channel doing marine habitat,” he said.
Chuck Patton, owner of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, a community meeting hub, who also is a past president of Bird Rock Community Council, said he feels some of the adverse reaction to MTV’s coming to town is a bit overwrought.
“I believe the initial excitement or concern about it will die down after they’ve been here for a little bit,” he predicted. “Worse things can happen. Just speaking as a business owner, not living across the street from it, I don’t see a lot of negatives to it at this time.”
Patton added the MTV show will expose viewers to Bird Rock, which he noted, on the whole, might not be such a bad thing.
Rob Dunson, president and head of production for the San Diego Film Commission, said a lot of steps were involved in the show’s getting permission to operate in Bird Rock.
“It’s a long and drawn out process,” he said. While there is no step involved in alerting the neighbors before permits are issued, he added, if there were “San Diego would be the only city not having filming.”
“The person who owns the home has a right to do this,” continued Dunson, who noted “the production people have been very cooperative, doing everything the Film Commission has asked, from insurance to indemnifying the city …”
Dunson said the show would have a cascade of positive economic benefits.
Their production budget is $6 million and they’ve booked 1,700 room nights for the crew. On top of that everything the producers purchase to furnish the house and use during their three-month shooting schedule is bought in San Diego, though Dunson did not have specifics on which vendors are being use. (He did note that they don’t have any computers or stereos that are likely to generate noise.)
Some of the crew are regular MTV/Real World employees; others are hired locally. The will work eight-hour shifts around the clock, Dunson said. All of the seven people living in the house must get jobs here since the show provides only room and board, he added.
In all, between redecorating the house for the show and returning it to its original state when the owners return, the process will take about four months, he noted.
San Diego Police Department Lt. Jim Filley, whose area of responsibility includes La Jolla, said, “We’ve had not problem with the production company which has been hired to do this show for MTV. … They’ve been very cooperative with everything we’ve asked them to do, and, from a police perspective, we’ve not had any problems there whatsoever.”
“We understand the neighborhood’s concerns. We are well aware of the situation and are monitoring it closely,” commented First District Councilwoman Sherri Lightner.
Her spokeswoman said they had received “less than a handful” of complaints and the film commission president said he has heard from only two people.
Asaro said he’d like MTV to give something back to the community they’re using for three months or so to do their show.
He suggested they might consider contributing toward landscaping for a nearby roundabout traffic circle that could use some updating.
Dunson said when they last filmed in San Diego, they auctioned all of the furnishings and décor items and donated the proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project. They are talking now about doing something for military families.
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