On Location: Long Beach stands in for the other sunshine state in 'CSI: Miami'
Crime-scene investigator Ryan Wolfe peers around the corner of a building, spying on an ex-con and some neighborhood toughs. When the group disappears down the alley, Wolfe chases after his target, who clambers over a metal gate and into an apartment complex in Miami’s Little Havana.
At least, that’s what the script says. In reality, Wolfe, played by Jonathan Togo, was acting out the scene Monday afternoon in downtown Long Beach at the corner of 1st Street and Lime Avenue.
The scene was for the 19th episode of the current season of “CSI: Miami,” the long-running CBS series starring David Caruso that has made Long Beach its home even though it’s some 2,300 miles from South Florida.
“It’s Miami of the West,” said Don Tardino, producer of the TV series, a spin-off of the original hit show about a south Florida team of forensic investigators. “The similarities are unbelievable.’’
Thanks to its ability to stand in for Miami and other locales -- palm trees, clean beaches, cruise ships and waterfront McMansions -- Long Beach has emerged as one of the busiest hubs for on-location filming in Los Angeles County.
On-location filming in Long Beach has jumped more than 300% in the last decade, generating 440 film permits and 671 production days in 2010, compared with 405 permits and 661 production days in 2009, according to the city of Long Beach’s special events and filming bureau.
Most of the activity stems from commercial shoots and TV shows, primarily “CSI: Miami” and Showtime’s “Dexter,” which also is set in Miami. They have been joined by “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Medium,” “Criminal Minds” and Fox’s “Glee,” which features scenes at Cabrillo High School even though the musical comedy is set in Lima, Ohio.
“CSI: Miami” producers visit south Florida twice a year to shoot aerial video of Miami and environs that are seen in the show, but virtually all exterior scenes are filmed in Long Beach. Interior scenes are shot at Raleigh Studios in Manhattan Beach.
Produced by CBS and Jerry Bruckheimer Productions, the show has a crew of 170 and an estimated budget of at least $3.5 million per episode. (The original “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” series is still made at Universal Studios, and “CSI: New York” films at CBS Studios in Studio City).
The “CSI: Miami” production crew can often be found filming on the beaches, around the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Long Beach Performing Arts Center and in the upscale Naples community, with its multimillion-dollar waterfront homes. El Dorado Regional Park has even been used as a substitute for the swampy Everglades.
Although most of the activity comes from television, several movies also have filmed in Long Beach in recent years, including “Fast & Furious,” “ Star Trek” (which used City Hall as the Starfleet command center), “Iron Man” (it staged a massive car explosion on Shoreline Drive) and two Transformers movies.
“We make it really easy for you to film here,’’ said the city’s film commissioner, Tasha Day, whose office is lined with posters from movies that have filmed in Long Beach, including “Anchorman” and “Get Smart.” “We answer our phones 24 hours a day. We’re not ‘call us between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or you’re not going to get a film permit.’ ”
Opened in 1993, the film office is run with four staff members, headed by Day, who doubles as the city’s coordinator of special events, such as the annual Grand Prix street race.
Though the city doesn’t offer any film tax credits, it does offer filmmakers a unique, Zelig-like quality with its ability to portray multiple cities.
Last year, for example, producers of the third “Transformers” movie -- which hasn’t been released yet -- used Long Beach as stand-in for a suburb in Washington, D.C. In the second “Transformers” installment, Long Beach doubled as Shanghai.
“When people are filming here, they usually are not filming Long Beach as Long Beach," Day said. “We can be just about anywhere in the world.”
The other sunshine state, in particular.
“I’m surprised that after nine seasons we haven’t tapped out on it,’’ Tardino said of Long Beach. “We always seem to have something interesting to shoot.”
-- Richard Verrier
Photo: Jonathan Togo films a chase scene for "CSI: Miami" in downtown Long Beach, Feb. 14, 2011. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times
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