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On Location: Occupy L.A. upstages film production at City Hall

November 30, 2011|By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times
  • A film crew prepares to shoot the second episode and finish the pilot for the TNT legal comedy series Franklin & Bash on the L.A. City Hall lawn last year.
A film crew prepares to shoot the second episode and finish the pilot for… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

Many in Hollywood are sympathetic to the goals of Occupy L.A., but protesters have been upstaging one of the industry's most popular shoot locations.

With its distinctive concrete tower and Greco-inspired architecture, City Hall has long been a favorite of location managers as a symbol of Los Angeles and a stand-in for Congress, New York courtrooms and other locations in numerous movies, television shows and commercials.

In the last two months, however, film production around the 32-floor building has fallen off sharply, largely because its 1.7-acre lawn has become a base camp for a different kind of production.

Since Oct. 1, Occupy L.A. protesters have inhabited a sprawling tent city as part of a nationwide campaign to draw attention to economic inequalities in the country.

"Most [film crews] are avoiding City Hall at this point,'' said Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A., the city's film permitting group. "They can't even get their parking vehicles in the area, and it would be very difficult to run cable with that many people there."

There were no signs from the protesters that they would vacate any time soon, despite announced plans by the city to evict them.

On Monday, protesters filed a federal lawsuit to bar police from closing the camp, which surrounds the city block between Main and Temple and 1st and Spring streets.

Over the last eight weeks, there were only nine film shoots in the City Hall area, about half the number that occurred during the same time a year earlier, according to FilmL.A.

Those included shoots for the Warner Bros. forthcoming release "Gangster Squad," which filmed in the mayor's press room in City Hall as the protest began in early October; a McDonald's commercial; and the TNT legal comedy series "Franklin & Bash."

A USC student recently shot a film on the site about the protest called "Occupy Together."

The falloff has contributed to an overall decline in location filming this quarter.

Shooting on city streets and unincorporated areas of the county has been down about 10% in the last two months compared with the same time a year earlier, mainly because of the migration of movies and TV shows to other states and a cutback in location filming by cost-conscious producers.

Still, no one in the Hollywood community is complaining about the protest, at least not publicly.

"Everybody has been very tolerant of it,'' Audley said. "They're just trying to go with the flow and are seeking out other locations."

The only production scheduled to shoot at City Hall in the near future is "Gangster Squad," starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Sean Penn, which plans to film an additional scene on the premises.

A fixture on the municipal landscape since it was completed in 1928, City Hall has appeared in scores of classic TV shows such as "Dragnet" and "Perry Mason" as well as the crime movie "L.A. Confidential" and science fiction thriller "Escape From L.A.," whose visual-effects wizardry made the building look as if it had collapsed and the city was in ruins.

More recently, City Hall has been featured in the movies "Rampart" and "Atlas Shrugged: Part I." Several local TV series also have used the property, including the sci-fi series "Torchwood" and the short-lived ABC legal drama "The Whole Truth." The now-defunct TV series filmed an elaborate scene last year on Spring Street in front of City Hall, which was made to look like New York City Criminal Court in Manhattan.

"It's got a great look, it's impressive, and obviously the people at City Hall get filming and they are very supportive,'' said J.J. Levine, spokeswoman for the Location Managers Guild of America.

richard.verrier@latimes.com

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