In the late 1990s, the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division was caught up in the worst corruption scandal in the department's history.
It didn't take long for Hollywood to mine the subject matter. The scandal, in which dozens of officers in Rampart's anti-gang unit were accused of serious misconduct, including perjury and evidence tampering, heavily influenced the FX TV series "The Shield" and the 2001 movie "Training Day," starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke.
Now comes "Rampart," a film from director Oren Moverman ("The Messenger") and film noir writer James Ellroy ("L.A. Confidential" and "Black Dahlia"). The movie, starring Woody Harrelson, recently began filming in Boyle Heights and other local neighborhoods.
"Rampart," which doesn't yet have a distributor but is expected to be released next year, tells the story of a veteran police officer played by Harrelson who gets caught up in the events of Rampart in the late 1990s. He is joined by an all-star cast that includes Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Ice Cube and Steve Buscemi.
The independently produced movie is being shot over 35 days in various communities served by the Rampart precinct, including Echo Park and MacArthur Park. The crew filmed last week at the former Rampart station on 3rd Street (the precinct has since moved to a new location on West 6th Street).
"We can truly say the city is a character in this film," said Lawrence Inglee, president of Lightstream Pictures, a producer of "Rampart."
Filmmakers are taking pains to use L.A. locations that are in the script, such as City Hall, Parker Center and well-known eateries including Tommy's burger joint at Beverly and Rampart boulevards, Johnny's Shrimp Boat and the historic Pacific Dining Car downtown, a favorite of Ellroy's.
"I love the place," Ellroy said. "It's dark and cavernous, and I got married there."
Although it's an L.A.-based story, there was no guarantee the movie would be shot locally.
"It was a challenge for us to find a [financial] partner who was willing to support the idea of filming in Los Angeles," Inglee said, alluding to more-favorable tax breaks in other states. "Rampart," which had been on a waiting list for a California film tax credit, eventually got approval for one. The film, budgeted at less than $20 million, is being bankrolled by Las Vegas-based Amalgam Features, which also is producing.
Ellroy, who shares a writing credit with Moverman and is an unabashed supporter of the LAPD, said he was inspired to write the script because he wanted to "set the record straight" about the scandal. He said media coverage of the story, which was broken by The Times, was "overblown" and unfairly tarnished the department's reputation.
"This is a radically different take on what happened in 1999," Ellroy said. "This is a good portrayal of a clean, hard-charging police department with the requisite number of bad cops to flesh out any Ellroy story."
However, Inglee stressed that the movie was not an attempt to present an actual account of what happened at Rampart or take a position on the LAPD.
"It plays against the backdrop of the Rampart scandal, but it's a fictional story," Inglee said. "It's an exploration of what it means to be a police officer in a troubled urban environment."