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Griffith Park was busiest site for on-location filming in first quarter

June 23, 2010|By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times
  • Nick Tanturri, left, and Sienella Thomas hike in Griffith Park last summer. In background, downtown Los Angeles is partially obscured by smoke from a fire.
Nick Tanturri, left, and Sienella Thomas hike in Griffith Park last summer.… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

It has a cedar grove, zoo, golf course, winding and secluded mountain roads and an iconic observatory that offers a panoramic view of Hollywood.

Griffith Park is a location manager's paradise.

The city-owned park, which spans more than 4,210 acres and drapes the hills between Los Feliz and Burbank, consistently ranks among the most popular film locations in Los Angeles. After all, the park and its landmarks have been used in countless films and have deep roots in Hollywood lore. The park's 1926 carousel is even credited with inspiring Walt Disney to dream up the carousel in Disneyland.

In fact, Griffith Park was the busiest public site for on-location filming in the first quarter of the year, followed by Venice Beach and the 6th Street Bridge, which is a popular spot for car commercials for luxury brands like Porsche and BMW, according to a recent survey conducted by FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and much of Los Angeles County.

In the first three months of the year, the park hosted 150 "production days" — one production day is defined as a single crew's permission to film a project at a single location in a 24-hour period — including shoots for commercials by AT&T and McDonald's, TV shows such as "Desperate Housewives," "Criminal Minds" and "NCIS: Los Angeles," and the Tom Hanks movie "Larry Crowne," which used the park for shooting a scooter scene.

"It's such a versatile location, it can pretty much play for almost anything," Jodi Strong, director of production planning for FilmL.A., said of the park, which was donated to the city in 1896 by Col. Griffith Jenkins Griffith, the Welsh immigrant who made a fortune in gold mining.

Tony Salome, location manager for "NCIS: Los Angeles," has lost track of how many times he's used the park, most recently to film a gun battle scene near the Griffith Observatory, famously depicted in the James Dean classic "Rebel Without a Cause." For another episode last year, "NCIS" shot a car crash and explosion on Mt. Hollywood Drive.

"It's relatively easy to use, it's cheap and you can film pretty much anything there," said Salome, first vice president of the Location Managers Guild of America, who also worked on the long-running Fox TV drama "24." "When I was on "24" we used it for every other episode. It's kind of a catchall."

David Berthiaume said he made extensive use of the park when he was location manager for the TV series "Gilmore Girls."

He even shot a snow scene set in Vermont on Mt. Hollywood Drive for the 1987 feature film "Baby Boom," starring Diane Keaton. "We spent all night making it look like Vermont," he said, adding that the crew used soap suds and crushed ice to simulate a picturesque New England winter landscape.

"It's a great location because it has a bunch of different looks," Berthiaume said. "It's a go-to place."

richard.verrier@latimes.com

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