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Bob Hope Airport in Burbank reopens as Hollywood film location

The airport had prohibited film shoots there since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks put the air transportation system on high alert.

July 11, 2012|By Thomas Suh Lauder, Los Angeles Times
  • Scenes from Tom Cruise's 1986 action hit "Top Gun" and the 1958 Jerry Lewis comedy "The Geisha Boy" featured a number of shots of the Bob Hope Airport.
Scenes from Tom Cruise's 1986 action hit "Top Gun" and… (York Pictures Corporation…)

Bob Hope Airport in Burbank has reopened its gates to Hollywood for the first time in more than a decade, after prohibiting film shoots there since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The tragedy put the nation's entire air transportation system on high alert. In the weeks and months after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, security requirements put a heavy demand on the regional airport's staff.

With safety the top priority, one of the restrictions that Burbank put into place at the time was a ban on all film production activity. In the ensuing years, that restriction became a semi-permanent policy.

"We had National Guardsmen walking around here in the immediate aftermath," recalled Victor Gill, the airport's director of public affairs and communications, who has worked there since 1984. "We didn't feel we had the manpower or ability to divert our attention from the immediate issue at hand, which is the safe and secure operation of the airport."

Other area airports had also shut down location shoots after 9/11. Los Angeles International Airport, run by the Los Angeles World Airports authority, resumed filming activity as early as January 2002.

But the Burbank airport, a much smaller operation, held off.

"We didn't have the specialty function to step in and supervise those kind of operations on an ongoing basis," Gill said. But the airport continued to receive inquiries from filmmakers about availability. "We were very aware of an existing demand."

So after 11 years, airport officials revisited the idea of reopening for filming and dedicated an office to start fielding and processing the requests. The airport's property officer, Madeleine Zavala, coordinates those efforts. Filmmakers are required to obtain a permit from the city of Burbank and from the airport authority.

The airport's property includes two runways (although shooting on runways has greater cost and scheduling demands), terminals, parking lots and hangers. Zavala said the empty ticket counters and the parking lots have been of most interest recently.

In addition, the airport has long-term arrangements for studio equipment companies to store trailers and other gear.

Although the airport was not "extremely active" for filming just before Sept. 11, 2001, it has a rich history in movie and television production, Gill said. Scenes from Tom Cruise's 1986 action hit "Top Gun" were filmed there. The 1958 Jerry Lewis comedy "The Geisha Boy" featured a number of shots of the airport.

Episodes of such television series as "Perry Mason" and scenes for the 1970s cop show "Mannix" were also shot at the airport, where "any number of fistfights" were filmed in the short-term parking structure in the middle of the property, Gill said.

According to Burbank's film permit office, the airport was used in the late 1990s to shoot scenes for the popular TV shows "Murder, She Wrote," "Home Improvement" and "Seinfeld," as well as music videos for Guns N' Roses, ZZ Top and George Michael.

Since the airport's reopening for filming in mid-April, movies that have enlisted it as a shooting location include director Sofia Coppola's latest feature, "Bling Ring," as well as student projects.

thomas.lauder@latimes.com

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