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FALL SNEAKS

Even locations get a stand-in

September 10, 2006|JOHN HORN

CHANGES of venue are usually reserved for high-profile court cases. But Hollywood has its own kind of relocation process.

For any number of reasons -- but primarily for convenience or cost -- movie productions will choose not to film in the city or country in which their story is set. The best recent example is "Chicago," which was made in Toronto. The December release "Pride," a story about the Philadelphia Department of Recreation, was shot in Shreveport, La. The makers of several other upcoming movies decided not to film where their plots unfold.

JOHN HORN

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'The Prestige'

Plot location: London

Production location: Los Angeles

Distance between the two: 5,456 miles

CHRISTOPHER PRIEST'S prize-winning novel about two feuding magicians unfolds in turn-of-the-century London. Director Christopher Nolan obviously couldn't travel back in time, but he has lived and worked in London, where he made "Batman Begins." Yet the filmmaker and production designer Nathan Crowley decided that they could film in Los Angeles and the audience would never be the wiser. "We came to the conclusion that the way we wanted to make the film -- hand-held and very intimate -- we could shoot it nearly anywhere," Crowley says. Besides filming on stages, Nolan and Crowley employed 68 locations, converting a West Adams Victorian home into a pub. The film also needed a number of vintage auditoriums. "No city anywhere has so many unused theaters," Crowley says. The Belasco Theatre on Hill Street was featured as a particularly dilapidated stage. "We had millions of dollars of set-building," Crowley says of the theater's genuine disrepair, "without doing anything."

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'The Black Dahlia'

Plot location: Los Angeles

Production location: Sofia, Bulgaria

Distance between the two: 6,619 miles

IT'S a quintessentially Southern California story: an adaptation of James Ellroy's novel about the unsolved murder of a Los Angeles actress. So why Bulgaria? It's up to 80% cheaper than shooting in Southern California, and it's where executive producer Avi Lerner's Nu Image Films is based. Even though director Brian De Palma shot for a few weeks in and around Hollywood, production designer Dante Ferretti was charged with building 1940s Los Angeles in Sofia, including reproductions of Beachwood Canyon, the Grand Olympic Auditorium and the Brown Derby. "We even built the palm trees, out of fiberglass," says Ferretti, adding that some trees were 45 feet tall. "It's hard to do something where everybody knows what period Los Angeles looks like," Ferretti says. "But in this case, I think we did a pretty good job."

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'Flags of Our Fathers'

Plot location: Iwo Jima

Production location: Iceland

Distance between the two: 6,097 miles

DIRECTOR Clint Eastwood considered shooting his historical drama on the real Japanese island, but it was logistically impossible, 600 miles from a major city and without a large port. "We needed a black-sand beach of considerable size," says producer Rob Larenz. "It turns out they are everywhere." The Icelandic city of Sandvik offered not only the perfect beach but was close enough to London for production equipment and crew. Icelandic extras played part of the American invasion force, and a close double for Mt. Suribachi, where the famous photograph of the U.S. flag being planted was taken, also was found in Iceland. "Our biggest concern was that the water would be too cold for people to slog through," Larenz says. "But that wasn't the case."

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'Flyboys'

Plot location: France

Production location: London

Distance between the two: 213 miles

THE young pilots in this World War I military drama battle the Germans over France, and yet the film's airspace (not to mention its ground-based locations) are all English. Director Tony Bill says British incentives (and the high costs of filming in France) mandated the move. "If we didn't shoot in England, we wouldn't have the financing," he says of the independently produced feature. "Flyboys" quickly found an airdrome but struggled locating a 1918 battleground. "You have to find wasteland, which simply doesn't exist," Bill says. The film's brothel owes its place in the movie to a little digital sleight-of-hand. Although the east London building looks quite French, it is surrounded by modern buildings on three sides, which required tight focusing. A skyscraper that peeked over its roof was digitally replaced with a country church. "That's a miracle of movie magic," Bill says.

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'The Departed'

Plot location: Boston

Production location: New York City

Distance between the two: 183 miles

A reworking of the Hong Kong film "Infernal Affairs," the Martin Scorsese movie is set in south Boston and focuses on Massachusetts law enforcement but was filmed mostly in New York. The move was partly driven by New York's aggressive production incentives, which can shave as much as 15% from a film's budget. Another reason: Scorsese and many of the film's actors (including Matt Damon) live in Manhattan. "It just made sense, location-wise," producer Graham King says. More than 90% of the film's exteriors, however, were shot around Boston, so Red Sox fans will struggle figuring out where the cheats come. "Marty is such a stickler for getting it right and detail," King says, "that anything that was remotely going to read Boston would be shot in Boston."

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