Los Angeles film and TV locations take on many starring roles

LA Times | Travel

It's only a matter of time before local film and TV buffs experience a sense of déjà vu around Los Angeles. That place looks familiar. Did you see it on the way home from work, or when you checked in with your favorite characters? Could be both. Most productions not filmed on studio ...

By Whitney Friedlander // 01.29.09

It's only a matter of time before local film and TV buffs experience a sense of déjà vu around Los Angeles. That place looks familiar. Did you see it on the way home from work, or when you checked in with your favorite characters? Could be both.

Most productions not filmed on studio lots are shot within the 30-mile zone (known as the TMZ) from Beverly and La Cienega boulevards, with some locations more popular than others.

"There are so many factors that go into choosing a location and it becomes a huge juggling act," says Geoffrey Smith, a longtime location manager and director of community relations for FilmLA, an organization that processes film, TV and commercial production permits.

"What does the script require? What does the schedule require? This could be the perfect location visually and artistically, but can it accommodate a film crew? Is it available when we want it? Is it accessible for trucks and generators? How do the neighbors feel about us filming?"

Jeffrey T. Spellman, a location manager for CBS' " Criminal Minds," says, "The Internet has sped this process up a bit and helps when you first start thinking about shooting. It used to be a lot of just driving around getting to know everything. I still do a lot of driving, though. The beauty of L.A. is that it's always changing. The big thing is trying to mask the palm trees.

Keeping all this in mind, we asked location managers, as well as Tony Reeves, author of "The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations," for some of the most well-recognized filming spots around Southern California.

Astro Family Restaurant

2300 Fletcher Drive, Los Angeles

(323) 663-9241

Diners such as this Googie-design restaurant are frequently used because they have so much character, says Smith, who likes using the Astro because parking and other logistics are easy. He filmed here on HBO's "Six Feet Under," but the restaurant also has appeared in such shows as "Monk," "Sons of Anarchy," "Nip/Tuck" and "Daybreak"; in the Jennifer Lopez movie "The Cell"; and in a slew of commercials. Similar late-night hamburger paradises that have had their day in film include Swingers -- the Santa Monica location was in "Knocked Up" and the Beverly Boulevard site was in "Monk." Meanwhile, the movie "Swingers," Reeves writes on his website www.movie-locations.com, was partly concocted and filmed at Hollywood's 101 Coffee Shop when it was under a different name. TV credits for the cafe include "Entourage" and " Shark."

Beverly Wilshire

9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills

(310) 275-5200

The hotel is perhaps most famous for standing in as the grandiose exterior and lobby in "Pretty Woman." Reeves writes via e-mail that "the rooms were a set built at the Disney studio in Burbank and bear little resemblance to the real thing." The movies "Bulworth" and "Beverly Hills Cop" also made use of the hotel's luxe décor.

Castle Green

99 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena

(626) 793-0359

The landmark Ambassador Hotel's demolition happened soon after filming began on "Bobby," a movie about the day Robert F. Kennedy was killed at that hotel. The next best thing? This historic Pasadena site, opened in 1899. Castle Green has had screen time in "The Sting," "The Last Samurai" and "We Were Soldiers." TV credits include " Brothers & Sisters," " Numb3rs," " Heroes," "CSI" and " CSI: Miami."

Cicada Restaurant

617 S. Olive St., Los Angeles

(213) 488-9488

Walls rich in texture are key to filming in restaurants, says FilmLA's Smith, and this Art Deco-designed Italian restaurant has the detail down. "If it's just a plain white wall, you don't see anything," says Smith, who also mentions Kendall's Brasserie and Bar at the Music Center as another example of a restaurant with interesting detail. "If you're going for a close-up, all you see is a head and that's not very interesting."

Ennis House

2655 Glendower Ave., Los Angeles

(323) 660-0607

Built in 1924 for Mabel and Charles Ennis, Frank Lloyd Wright's one-of-a-kind concrete block house was featured in 1959's "House on Haunted Hill" and 1982's "Blade Runner." It was also a vampire lair in the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV show. The exterior is photogenic, but the interior is not open to the public.

Formosa Cafe

7156 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood

(323) 850-9050

This was once an after-shooting hangout for stars such as Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart, so it's probably no surprise the Chinese-themed red-and-black bar and restaurant is where characters played by Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce find the "real" Lana Turner in "L.A. Confidential." The landmark, which opened in 1939, also appears in the Jim Carrey drama "The Majestic" and in the opening scene of "Beverly Hills Cop II."

Griffith Observatory

2800 E. Observatory Road, Los Angeles

(213) 473-0800

The domes and telescopes will always be associated with James Dean's iconic "Rebel Without a Cause" knife fight in 1955. Though it's featured in major motion pictures such as "Transformers," restrictions and fees make the observatory difficult for television shoots, according to "Entourage" location manager Bob Lepucki.

Hollywood Sign

These statuesque white letters, part of a 1923 ad campaign for Hollywoodland, show up in such films as 1974's "Earthquake." Film highlights since then: " Superman," "Bugsy," "Ed Wood" and "The Truman Show." It's illegal for mere mortals to hike to the sign, but there are several spots in Hollywood to get a good camera angle. (Personal favorite: Gower Boulevard, heading toward Franklin Avenue.)

Hotel del Coronado

1500 Orange Ave., Coronado

(619) 435-6611

This is the "Miami hotel where Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis hide out in drag with Marilyn Monroe in the classic 'Some Like It Hot,' " author Reeves writes, in an e-mail, of the San Diego-area luxury hotel, which has offered high rollers a bit of R&R since 1888. This is also where L. Frank Baum wrote at least three of his "Wizard of Oz" books. (The novelist also designed the chandeliers in the hotel's Crown Room.)

Los Angeles City Hall

200 N. Spring St., Los Angeles

(213) 473-3231

The center of city government was also center stage as the "Daily Planet" in the 1950s TV show "Adventures of Superman." The rotunda and steps also make City Hall a popular stand-in for other government buildings. It has shown up in TV dramas such as "West Wing" and "Alias."

Millennium Biltmore

506 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles

(213) 624-1011

The elegant downtown hotel is a favorite of many location managers because of what Smith describes as its "spectacular central hallway" and "grand ballroom." "The hotel relocated to New York, as the haunted Sedgwick Hotel in 'Ghostbusters' and the venue for the presidential dinner in 'Splash' " Reeves writes in an e-mail.

Santa Monica Pier

200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica

Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the whimsical tourist-attracting wharf that houses an arcade and amusement park has had its share of screen time in films such as "Forrest Gump," "The Sting," "Fletch" and "Thank You for Smoking."

Shoreline Drive

Long Beach

If it's a freeway chase scene, chances are it's this quarter-mile stretch in Long Beach, says "Criminal Mind's" Spellman, who recently used Shoreline Drive for a freeway in Orange County and as a location for a pivotal freeway driving lesson scene in the Alicia Silverstone movie "Clueless." It's also credited in the movies "Speed" and " Iron Man." Spellman says it helps that the city is so cooperative with film crews. It should be used to them: "CSI: Miami" and "Dexter" both shoot in Long Beach.

Sunset Tower Hotel

8358 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood

(323) 654-7100

Reeves writes that the striking Deco tower has been in movies since 1944, when it was featured in "Murder, My Sweet," a Philip Marlowe film. "On its patio, studio exec Tim Robbins gets a message to meet Joe Gillis [the name of William Holden's screenwriter character in 'Sunset Boulevard']) in Robert Altman's Hollywood satire 'The Player,' " Reeves continues. "And on its roof, Mark Wahlberg's crew plans revenge in the 2003 remake of 'The Italian Job.' "

Union Station

800 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles

Opened in 1939, the historic Mission-style building has an extensive résumé. It set the scene for the William Holden-Nancy Olson film "Union Station" and masqueraded as a bank in the Leonardo DiCaprio- Tom Hanks caper "Catch Me if You Can." Noteworthy TV appearances include "Alias," "24" and " Prison Break."

Warner Grand Theatre

478 W. 6th St., San Pedro

(310) 548-7672

If the script calls for a classic, old-time movie theater, Smith recommends this remodeled and restored Art Deco theater that opened in 1931. It's where Kate Beckinsale chokes up during a newsreel in the World War II tear-jerker "Pearl Harbor" and is Kate Bosworth's date-night spot of choice in "Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!"