It's true that Los Angeles no longer has the corner on location filming, that film companies are forsaking Hollywood in favor of other cities. The film industry blames the exodus on convoluted government regulations, on mounting location fees and a market in which mansions typically rent for $5,000 a day, as well as on shortsighted residents who love movies as long as the cameras aren't in their neighborhood. Yet there's still plenty of action here. On an average day, 20 to 30 locations are filmed in the city, according to Dirk Beving, director of the city of Los Angeles' Motion Picture Coordination Office, and that figure doesn't include cities such as Beverly Hills, Santa Monica or Pasadena. Filming is heavy in those towns, too, though they often charge sizably higher fees ($480 a day in Pasadena, contrasted with Los Angeles' one-time permit fee, which can be as low as $115 for several weeks of shooting) and impose stricter regulations on the hours and days a crew may film and on the stunts they may do.
The job of finding the seven to 10 settings required for an hourlong television serial falls to the location manager, who, if possible, must also locate them within the 30-mile-radius "studio zone," the center of which is the intersection of Beverly and La Cienega boulevards. Film companies are required to provide transportation and often lodging for cast and crew working outside this area. In just seven working days, the location manager must also sound out the owners of the prospective locations; get the director to approve the selections; hunt up alternatives when what was found failed to please; negotiate the deals; file for the necessary city, county, state and / or federal permits, and hire the appropriate fire and police personnel (who are different for each city). Occasionally, just when everything seems set, he or she must also deal with an unexpected hitch that could threaten the whole million-dollar undertaking.
On the morning of the first day of preparation for an episode of "Stingray"--Stephen J. Cannell Productions' high-tech adventure drama that aired last spring and is currently scheduled as a mid-season replacement--Peter Robarts, a husky 39-year-old Canadian, has the first two acts in hand; acts III and IV, which he also should have, are still being written. He is in an informal meeting with the show's production-unit manager. The two stand by one of the drawing boards and discuss finding, securing and getting permits for the locations the writer has invented. "We shouldn't be hampered by reality on the first run-through," jokes the unit production manager when he comes across a scene that both know will be impossible to set up.
"That's the difference between writers and location managers," Robarts says. "The writer will always want the car to burn inside the living room." The location manager is the one who has to tell him that it can't be done.
After the meeting, Robarts returns to his desk in the location wing of the Cannell offices on Hollywood Boulevard and begins to break down the script, color-coding the locations required for the 183 scenes, noting with a red marker those involving stunts. The list of locations grows: a canyon road, a Malibu house (where a car will be exploded), a recording studio, a coffee shop, a government building (with an executive office and a gated outdoor parking lot), an autopsy room, a locker room, a science lab, a condo, a gas station with a diner close by, and finally, a reservoir. By this time tomorrow, Robarts must be ready to take the director, the first A.D. (short for assistant director) and the producer on a scout. That means he has the rest of the day and the early hours of the following morning to come up with options and then to double-check them by telephone or in person.
"You don't want to diddle the director," he says as he glances at one of the 3x4-foot picture boards that are kept in the department files for reference. C. Robert Holloway, founder and head of Holloway's Eagle Scouts, a location-scouting company, explains the challenge somewhat differently. "The curse of our business is that the kitchen that we filmed in last Wednesday got sold on Thursday, repainted gilt on Friday, stripped down to a parking lot on Saturday and totally blown away on Sunday. So we constantly have to call up, even though we filmed there last week, to make sure it's still there and hasn't changed color, shape, size or ownership."