“It’s a hot-ticket item now,” said Jody Hart, founder and president of Los Angeles-based Combat Casting. “A lot of TV shows are based on reality; so are movies. … The fact we’re at war is going to create story lines for writers in both (media).” Combat Casting lives up to its name, peopling TV shows and feature films with active-duty and retired military personnel as actors and crew members. Some performed in a History Channel drama on the death of football great Pat Tillman in a friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan, with Blue Cloud doubling for the rugged Mideast landscape. A fleet of exploded wrecks at the ready – helicopters, jeeps, buses, cars – lend a touch of realism. “When special effect puts that little puff of smoke in the cars, you’re there,” Veluzat said. The gold mine used to be an illegal dump, literally, before Veluzat rescued it. Skeptical friends shook their heads, wondering how the former stuntman and character actor would turn a buck from his questionable investment, but fate intervened. Wildfires in 2000 burned the trash and everything else. Popular TV shows filmed at the ranch include “The Unit,” “Medium,” “JAG” and “Without a Trace.” Feature films include “The Shaggy Dog” and the sci-fi film “Serenity.” The ranch is within the so-called 30-mile zone, which saves clients money. The zone’s centerpoint is in Los Angeles, and filming within its radius cuts costs on overnight lodging and per diem crew fees. “Rene struck on something great before it actually happened,” Hart said. “He had a small town, he was a great businessman, knew what he had, what it could be used for.” Veluzat, a licensed contractor, fussed over some of the sets, enlivening them with vivid details, but when production crews balked about his choice of treatments he toned them down. The move paid off, and not only do the paying customers lend their own touches, they often leave them behind because it’s cheaper than demolishing them. Steven Bochco’s series “Over There” shot one episode at the ranch. Sam Sako served as a technical adviser on the series. Neighbors may do a double take when Sako appears with a carload of costumed extras, but Veluzat takes it in stride. Sako grew up in Baghdad and is cashing in on authenticity with his Mideast in Hollywood.com venture. He provides translations in Arabic, Afghani and Farsi and coaches actors, creates props, signs and costumes, as well as offering valuable cultural advice. He, too, worked on the Tillman project. “We created an atmosphere that resembled the Afghan location where Tillman was killed,” he said. “Rene has the sets. I dressed up the actors and we gave the look of the North Alliance, and I also taught them how to say a few words in Pashtu.” When Al-Jazeera hit town to shoot a piece on Arabs in Hollywood, they made a beeline to Sako. History comes in all shapes and sizes. Animal expert Phil Smith has known Veluzat for three decades. His company, Piru-based Phil’s Animals Rentals, has provided horses and livestock and more than 40 styles of period and modern wagons, carriages and buggies. “He’s so easy to get along with; he understands the business and knows what you need,” Smith said. “You can use the little towns for many different uses, but mainly it’s his personality.” [email protected] (661) 257-5255 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! SANTA CLARITA – Upscale tracts are cropping up all over Santa Clarita, but a bunch of shabby shacks in Bouquet Canyon that resemble a bombed-out Iraqi village won’t be replaced any time soon. The neighbors don’t care and the owner couldn’t be more pleased. “People don’t realize Newhally-wood is here in the Santa Clarita Valley,” said Rene Veluzat, who owns the 100-acre Blue Cloud Movie Ranch. A faux gas station tapped for a Vogue cover shoot and the ’50s diner are nice, but Veluzat’s mainstays are the Iraqi and Afghanistan streetscapes and scruffy hills, burned by a fire years ago.