On Location: film scouts tour unlikely corners of L.A. County
On a recent Sunday afternoon, more than two dozen location managers from such shows as the Fox hit "House" and the CW drama "90210" piled onto a double-decker bus and paid a visit to the city of Cerritos in southeastern Los Angeles County.
Cerritos, perhaps best known for the Cerritos Auto Square, has been featured over the years in a few TV shows like the NBC series "Undercovers" and such movies as "Wayne’s World," but it is not exactly on the radar of most location scouts.
To remedy that, the Location Managers Guild of America has launched a program aimed at highlighting some of the lesser-known cities within the 30-mile radius where studios and producers do most of their filming as a way to spur more local production.
"There are over 90 cities within the zone like Lakewood, Bellflower and Cerritos that are not recognized by the filming community and have so much to offer and have amazing locations," said Kris Bunting, a former key assistant location manager for the Showtime series "Dexter," who grew up in the area. "We want to put them on the map."
Bunting said he conceived the program as way to help keep production from leaving Los Angeles for Canada and other states like Michigan, Louisiana and New Mexico. While on-location filming rebounded in 2010, thanks in part to California’s 2009 film tax credit program, feature production remained less than half what it was in 1996.
And Bunting and his colleagues figure more filming would occur locally if producers gave a second look to some underutilized cities of L.A. County. "I grew up in the city of Lakewood, and I was able to watch the aerospace industry move right out of Long Beach, and now I’m watching the same thing happen in Los Angeles with the movie industry," Bunting said, who spent four seasons working on "Dexter," which mainly films in Long Beach.
A friend of Bunting who works in Bellflower asked him why so few TV shows and movies are shot in smaller cities in South Los Angeles, which prompted him to reach out to Cerritos. As it turned out, city officials had been thinking about boosting its small film business and were eager to host a tour of some of its facilities.
"We definitely are trying to encourage more film production and more use of our facilities because it’s a source of revenue for our city," said Annie Hylton, theater and marketing manager for the city, which generated $64,000 from film permits and rental fees in the last year.
The guild hopes to conduct two city tours a year and is working with the California Film Commission to identify locations to target. It also will promote the cities and their locations on its website.
Cities like Cerritos may be off the beaten path, but what they lack in name recognition they make up for in other advantages, including low permit fees, low-cost parking and film-friendly communities that haven't yet become jaded by hosting one too many crews.
Having "fresh" and diverse locations that haven’t been overused also helps. In a three-hour tour, 25 location managers toured the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts with its three-story atrium, a former Nordstrom department store (which one location manager called a "diamond in the rough"), an island play area called Heritage Park that is patterned after a New England colonial village and the city’s library. They also met with a representative of the ABC Unified School District about promoting filming in the local schools.
It’s too early to say what effect the program will have, but at least one TV show, ABC’s crime drama "Castle," has been scouting in the area since the April 3 tour.
Like many of his peers, Bunting admits he has a vested interest in seeing more production stay close to home.
"I’m a native of Los Angeles and I want to continue working here," he said. "I have no business working in snow or rain."
Photo: Location managers on a recent tour of Cerritos as part of a program to promote filming in lesser-known areas of L.A. County. Credit: Location Managers Guild of America.