Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Location shooting or... I can't get out of my driveway!

One of the perks/problems with living in LA is that you encounter location shooting. Same story in New York, Vancouver, Toronto, and Saugus.

The cool part: Who needs Universal tours when Hollywood comes right to you? The top of your tree is seen in a major motion picture. Hollywood technicians have employment. You can usually steal a donut off the craft-services table. Big stars hang out on your front porch.

A few years ago I took a walk after dinner and encountered a shoot for CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND. They were in the long process of setting up a shot and everybody was just milling around. I saw the director just sitting off by himself, casually watching the activity. I walked up and said hello. We knew a lot of mutual people in television so breaking the ice was easy. Long story short, I spent the next half hour chatting with George Clooney. (Happy to report he’s as nice, unassuming, handsome, and charming as you’d hope he’d be in person – the bastard.)

The uncool part: Location filming, especially if it’s on your block, is a major hassle and inconvenience to the entire neighborhood. The homeowner of the house they’re using gets paid handsomely. The neighbors just can’t park, there are strangers sitting on your lawns eating, you can't get out of your driveway, incessant walkie-talkies, and there’s just a general level of intrusion. They will generally allow you to watch them film, but there’s that old line in Hollywood:

The first day on a movie set is the most exciting day of your life. The second is the most boring.

It’s a very slow process. That’s just the way it is. And what they’re shooting is not always that glamorous. Recently, a Ford commercial was filmed two doors down from me. (The photos today are from that shoot.)  I wandered over (to steal some donuts) and when I expressed my disappointment to some crew guy that there were no stars he said: “Are you kidding? You get to see the new Ford.” Yeah, well... that's fine if it's Harrison. 

All in all, location shooting is a good thing. I’ll trade the inconvenience for the stimulation in the local economy and the nostalgia of watching old movies filmed in LA and seeing landmarks that no longer exist. It’s a time machine experience not many cities are afforded.

No one’s ever used our house for filming. We came close once. A location manager was interested in our backyard for the pilot of DOLLHOUSE. I was crushed when it didn’t happen. Imagine being paid a lot of money to have Eliza Dushku swimming in your pool.

Neighbors a couple of blocks away let their house be used for the pilot of ONCE AND AGAIN (starring Sela Ward). Inside and out they shot at their home. Then the show got picked up. At this point the production company had to completely replicate their living room and kitchen on a soundstage. How weird to watch a show with people in your kitchen every week? Assuming they didn’t watch something else.

Earl Pomerantz created a series about a writer like himself and he too had his living room reproduced on the stage. What a benefit that has to be if you’re selling your home. How many sellers get 20,000,000 visitors to attend their Open House?

My parents had friends who were extremely wealthy and lived in the San Fernando Valley. They had a big house at the end of a cul de sac, which provided plenty of privacy. They would routinely rent out their house to porno studios. My parents were afraid to sit on any of the couches.

But that’s the beauty of L.A. Everywhere you go, any house, any street. Cary Grant may have uttered famous lines from movies right where you’re standing. Or Nina Hartley might’ve been sodomized. They don’t call this place the Dream Factory for nothing!

35 comments:

The Curmudgeon said...

Happy belated blogiversary. Sorry I missed the anniversary post. I think when I looked in yesterday morning your post wasn't up yet. And you can't prove otherwise.

My old law office (a converted three flat) was once scouted as a location for a Richard Gere movie. I'm pretty sure the movie was Primal Fear, a cheery story about a lawyer (Gere) who defends a former altar boy accused of murdering the Archbishop of Chicago. The Archbishop may have molested his murderer -- and other boys as well, back in the day. And there's all sorts of financial scandal. But not a lot of laughs.

The one thing I particularly remember is how all the female members of the staff got all dressed up for the location scout's inspection. Just in case Richard Gere showed up.

He didn't.

And our office wasn't used either.

Johnny Walker said...

Don't forget that It's Garry Shandling's Show's set was modelled on Garry Shandling's real life house, too.

R said...

My neighborhood seems to be the center of the universe for all the CSIs (doesn't matter which city they're supposed to be set in -Hollywood magic!); NCIS; basically anything with an acronym for a title. I'm sure if I watched any of those shows (the easiest way would be to watch TV with my dad for a week) that I'd see my house many times over. Never tried the craft-service donut trick, though. Might have to give that a whirl. Wonder which show is filming this week.

The building I work in has also been in many movies. We watched the regrettably awful sequel to Get Shorty filmed out front of our building for a couple of weeks. But for Angelenos, it's more infamous than famous. Right out front is where Hugh Grant was arrested for getting a completely different sort of craft service. When our CEO saw our building on the news that night, he called our president, boiling mad. "$&@#%^!" he yelled, "Now whenever anyone thinks of our company, they're going to think of $&@% jobs!"

Jonathan Watson said...

Love the post! We happen upon quite a bit of location shooting in Wilmington, NC ("Wilmywood") as well. Having grown up in the San Fernando Valley, it's cool to see that familiar activity here on the East coast. Oh, and I think I lived a couple blocks from those friends of your parents. Thanks for confirming the childhood rumors!

Mary Stella said...

One of my best friends lives on a property that was used for an allegedly "classic" porn film in the 70s. She can't bring herself to watch it, so I did on her behalf. I've told her she would never be able to walk in her courtyard with the same feeling again.

Ken, how do people decide what to charge production companies for the use of their properties? Is there some sliding scale or way to calculate location fees?

wv=encerst. When a hillbilly tries to put tab A into slot B, he's tryin' ta encerst somethin', or he's jumpin' the broom with his cousin.

Anonymous said...

"Mutual people"? Coming from a writer, that's an awkward term...

Anyway: "All in all, location shooting is a good thing. I’ll trade the inconvenience for the stimulation in the local economy and the nostalgia of watching old movies filmed in LA and seeing landmarks that no longer exist. It’s a time machine experience not many cities are afforded."

Sure, but nowadays you're getting the worst of both worlds: shows filmed "on location" in LA, that pretend to be set somewhere else (like in Scranton, PA), so they try and do everything they can to hide landmarks and other markers that show that it's LA. You just get the inconvenience of having the show filmed there, with none of the recognition.

Shouldn't there be a "truth in advertising" law against deception like this?

Michael said...

I was doing research at The Huntington Library for my dissertation about 20 years ago and took a walk in the gardens. I came upon a crowd and saw somebody jumping in and out of bushes. I asked what was up. Somebody said, oh, that's Kevin Costner; he's filming a movie. I said thanks and started walking and the guy said, "Mel Gibson will be here next month!" I said thanks and continued, not even realizing, as I would years later, that, being Jewish, I should avoid Gibson.

A year or so later a friend made dinner for me and rented a movie, if you could call it that: The Bodyguard, with Whitney Houston and .... So when they go to her mansion, it's one of the Huntington buildings, and then I see Costner, chasing a guy through the bushes.

iain said...

The house next to my condo building is the one used for exterior shots on "Hot In Cleveland."

& this concludes my brush with greatness for 2011.

Jen said...

After working on a location shoot I changed my mind about wanting to rent out my house to a film crew lol.

Chris said...

Here's a friday question: when a writer gets hired on a show, who is the actual employer, who does the writer have the work contract with?

Carol said...

One of the main buildings on my college's campus (Monmouth University in New Jersey) was a popular spot for fashion shoots. It was always amusing to walk to English class in my sweatpants and pass a model in an evening gown.

They filmed the movie Annie there, too - it was Daddy Warbuck's house. And once they filmed some movie staring Jason Robard's son there that I was an extra in, but I don't think it ever saw the light of day.

That's as close as I've gotten to Hollywood. So far.

DanTedson said...

"But that’s the beauty of L.A. Everywhere you go, any house, any street. Cary Grant may have uttered famous lines from movies right where you’re standing. Or Nina Hartley might’ve been sodomized."

*checks bottoms of shoes*

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding negative, I find film people to be a world-class pain in the ass. I've had the misfortune of having to babysit them in recording studios in order to tally up the damage they cause and I've had to deal with them, often, in a neighborhood where I used to live.

I appreciate that directors and producers are accustomed to having colleagues constantly blowing smoke up their asses and that this behavior is contagious. I also understand that getting and keeping a job in that industry is brutally difficult. Nevertheless, their lack of respect and outright abuse of human beings around them makes me feel about as warm and fuzzy about film crews as I do about typhus.

Cheers,

Alan Tomlinson

Ned Keitt-Pride said...

"But that’s the beauty of L.A. Everywhere you go, any house, any street. Cary Grant may have uttered famous lines from movies right where you’re standing. Or Nina Hartley might’ve been sodomized."

That may be the funniest thing I have read on this blog to date. Happy Anniversary, Mr. Levine, every day you break down my fear of writing a little bit more...

David L said...

Hello Ken…
Here’s a Friday question: I read recently that MASH was filmed on Stage 9 at Fox Studios and that Stage had no restrooms. As the story goes, several MASH actors insisted in their contract negotiations that restrooms be constructed on the stage so they didn’t have to walk back and forth to their trailers. Any truth to that story? Also, when not in their trailers or doing their own scenes, do actors ever “hang out” on the sound stage and watch their colleagues work?

Thanks very much

LafayetteO said...

The luster and wonder of a location shoot fades by about half for each subsequent experience. 100% to 50 to 25 to 12 to 6%...

It's sort of like having your street torn up to replace water and sewer lines, but imagine every city worker out there walking about with a regal self-entitlement not seen since the Emperors of Rome. No. Strike that. There is no historical equivalent. Movie location shoots set the new standard for Attitude.

But pillaging the Craft Table is potential compensation...good idea.

Jim said...

I have a contender for the least-glamorous glamorous location shooting: from my Valley apartment, I have a view of a vacant lot across the street, which was used as "the pit" in the first couple seasons of "Parks and Recreation." Hard to believe they didn't raise my rent because of that.

Emily Blake said...

They also use schools around here for a lot of shoots. Venice is used quite a bit, I think. Our school was used for a couple of things, but the biggest was the Bratz movie. I really want to watch that movie so I can yell things like "Hey, that's our library!" or "Hey I was standing just on the other side of the camera when that happened!" because school was in session during shooting so during every scene there are like a zillion kids watching.

At the time our school was pretty heavy in gang members, so I enjoyed the irony of the preppy Latino actor pretending to be street then smiling and returning to normal between takes, while he was surrounded by actual street kids who would probably knife him after work.

Anyway, I want to watch this movie because of that, but that would mean having to watch the actual movie, and nobody wants that.

ManhattanHillbilly said...

We live on New York's Upper West Side, so we have shooting going on every week in our neighborhood. While you'll occasionally hear someone grumbling about a blocked street or losing their primo parking space to Mariska Hargitay's trailer (she can camp on my street anytime) we mostly appreciate the economic stim and enjoy showing off to our visiting relatives ("And this is where Meg Ryan waited for Tom Hanks in "You've Got Mail"...)

Tim W. said...

It's funny. When you mentioned seeing and talking to the director of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, my first though was, "Hey, isn't that George Clooney?". And apparently it was.

As for location shooting, I live in Vancouver, so there are obviously a lot of shoots here, and I actually find it takes me out of the moment when I see a scene at a location I recognize. Like the opening of the movie 50/50. You have no idea how far Joseph Gordon Levitt would have had to jog to be at the locations they showed.

TIPSY said...

Ironically just today I found a filming notice on my door. Thanks to your tips I’ll know how to better handle the situation. If the walkie talkies get too loud I’ll walk the driveway with out pants, works well for getting kids off the lawn too.

D. McEwan said...

Harrison Ford is 69, so he's hardly a "new Ford."

I watched Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice a couple days ago, and in one shot was an apartment building I lived in in 1986-89. The building was used by Tarentino in Pulp Fiction. They even shot in the actual, miniscule elevator in the building. When you see Sam Jackson and John Travolta in that elevator, its the same actual elevator I'd committed some - ah - acts of intimacy in with dates on my way up to my apartment.

I have always been fascinated by the filmmaking process, and though I've spent hundreds of hours on film and TV sets, I've never been bored on one, though if I was acting in a shoot, I did always bring a book, but then, I bring books most everywhere except the movies and stage shows. And if a long bus ride to and from is involved, I bring books to the movies too. After our mutual night with Barry Humphries, I returned to that same show again a few nights later, and had brought a book to read on the ride to and from. When Barry asked me after the show if I wasn't a little tired of seeing him tell the same jokes night after night (I was not), I held up the book and said: "Well, I brought a book along in case I got bored." He roared with laughter.

The supermarket a block from my home, which is where I get all my groceries, was the one used in the TBS sitcom 10 Items of Less a couple years back. It was always a hoot to go shopping when they were shooting, because they did NOT close the store. You just shopped "around" the shoot. And it was indeed weird to watch on TV a scene with actors playing in front of shelves of cat food, while knowing that a number of those exact same cans of cat food I was seeing on TV were now in my cupboard, and that some of the cat food in the background was now actually inside my cats. (My cats were not impressed by this.)

When they shot Thunderball back in 1965, they rented an estate for the villain's lair. They assumed the owners would move out for the shoot. Nope. Instead, the owners would invite friends over to watch the James Bond movie being shot in their yard, sitting on lawn chairs, like the film crew was hired entertainment.

Anonymous said...

RIP Sela Ward's real face

Paul V. said...

Some of Devil's Own was filmed in my town, with Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford. Drove all the girls in town crazy; seriously crazy, they were all over town, and us menfolk were just dropped like bad habits. It was pretty funny, actually.

One morning there were filming on my street, and I wandered through the set, asked somebody with a headset if Pitt or Ford were around, she looked up the block, said yeah, Harrison's up by that tree, I look up, and it's the tree on my front lawn, and all of a sudden I'm like an eight year old freaking out because HAN FREAKING SOLO IS STANDING ON MY FRONT LAWN. Yes, it was an all-caps interior monologue moment, trust me.

Paul Duca said...

If it was a Ford spot, did you have the chance to meet Mike Rowe?

crackblind said...

Living in NY I used to walk by a Law & Order shoot nearly every week. Those guys protect the craft services table from intruders.

Scorsese used an apartment in my complex when he filmed Bringing Out the Dead. It was winter but they had a Mister Softee truck out for the crew. I walked past it in the afternoon and asked how late the truck would be out. That night, I snuck out to grab a cone to surprise my wife. At first they wouldn't let me have one but one guy remembered me from the afternoon and gave me two cones.

Also, when Homicide was on the air, people living in Fells Point used to refer to it by the subtitle - Life Without Parking.

xjill said...

Location shooting is one of my favorite things about L.A.!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Some years back, a neighbor three doors down (my tiny cul-de-sac street in a suburb of London) got picked by the BBC for one of those home makeovers. As I live at the end of the street where there is a low wall people could sit on, that's where the crew congregated, right under my office window, one story up, to yell into their mobile phones and smoke. Utterly uncharming, and went on for six weeks.

On the other hand, the parents of one of my closest friends from high school still live on a high floor of Blair Waldorf's building in GOSSIP GIRL. It's quite amusing to see that when they film the supposed front door (on 5th Avenue) they're really filming on a side street (probably 95th St).

wg

thomas tucker said...

Why do they shoot on location so frequently instead of using sets and movie lots? It seems like even a lot of famous landmarks would have been filmed enough that you could simply insert the actors digitally.
So why shoot locations? Doesn't it drive up the cost?

R said...

D. McEwan - I live two streets over from the Pulp Fiction building. I knew it was there but never could find it until one day my bus broke down and I found myself right in front of it.

Around the other corner is Jon Favreau's apartment from Swingers, which was actually Jon Favreau's apartment. It's funny because the main plot of the movie is that Favreau can't meet a girl, but every time I walk by the building it seems a cute girl is going in or coming out. All he needed to do was open his door.

My favorites though are when the location gets completely changed, like the time I got out of the Metro at 7th street at midnight, and walked right into downtown New York City, complete with New York cabs, delis, NYPD cars and motorcycles, and street signs reading Broadway and Madison Ave. I was so disoriented until I saw the lighting rigs and the stuntmen dressed as Doctor Octopus and Spiderman.

Just last night driving home I drove through a street filled with 1940s cars, extras in vintage costumes, and crew hosing down streets for that wet look all period movies have. Some research revealed it was for the upcoming Gangster Squad starring Sean Penn and Josh Brolin. They've evidently been recreating old Hollywood all over town, including a refurbished Slapsy Maxie's.

I've been to Bronson Canyon and seen the old tunnel the Batmobile comes out of, but one day I need to make a trip to Malibu and see the old 4077th.

WV - Furboo: a Roomba specifically for cat and dog owners.

VP81955 said...

They also use schools around here for a lot of shoots. Venice is used quite a bit, I think. Our school was used for a couple of things, but the biggest was the Bratz movie.

Venice High School was used in the original "Grease," and you can see the initial version of the statue that Myrna Loy posed for when she was a student there in the early 1920s. (It was redone in metal a few years ago to make it more durable and safe from vandals; Beau Bridges, who as a child worked with Loy on "The Red Pony" and is a Venice High alumnus, gave the dedication speech.)

wv: "sporst" -- athletics for someone with a lisp. (I would make a joke about Kay Francis, but I'm not sure how I could change an "r" into a "w" in that context.)

D. McEwan said...

"R said...
D. McEwan - I live two streets over from the Pulp Fiction building. I knew it was there but never could find it until one day my bus broke down and I found myself right in front of it."


The Pulp Fiction building was demolished in esarly 1994, after being extremely badly damaged in the January 1994 earthquake. (Basically, the third floor collapsed. Man I was glad I no longer lived there. I lived on the 4th floor.) It was an empty lot by the time Pulp Fiction premiered at Cannes. It is still an empty lot, the one on the right as you exit the southbound Hollywood Freeway at Sunset Blvd., across the street from the Sunset & Van Ness Denny's parking lot.

So if you saw Pulp Fiction before your bus broke down, that was the wrong building.

R said...

Thanks! I guess I had the wrong building. The one I was looking at was similar but on the opposite side of the freeway. I need to do a tour of the LA Confidential locations I haven't been to yet - mainly Pierce Patchett's house, Roland Navarette's, and the Night Owl.

cadavra said...

My favorite such story: My office building was being used for some scenes for a TV-movie called "These Old Broads." One day I returned from lunch and noticed they were shooting in a small lobby off the main lobby. While waiting for the elevator, I was approached by a young P.A. who nervously informed me that I was "in Miss [Joan] Collins' eyeline." I turned and looked; I couldn't even see a camera, much less any actors--just reflectors and cases. I calmly repied, "Well, you go tell Miss Collins that SHE'S in MY eyeline, and as far as I'm concerned, I'm getting the worse of the deal." All the color drained from his face, and as he wondered how to deal with this, the elevator arrived and the point became moot. But it did pretty much confirm that every story I'd ever heard about her horrible behavior must be true.

scot said...

Seattle is also becoming a popular location for movies. I have stumbled upon a few shoots in the past year. kind of cool to hang out and watch!