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Los Angeles film and TV locations take on many starring roles

Southern California is a giant back lot for movies and TV -- and a gold mine for fans who want to relive their favorite scenes. Here are some noteworthy sites.

February 01, 2009|Whitney Friedlander

It's only a matter of time before local film and TV buffs experience a sense of deja 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, 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 decor.

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

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