On Location: 'Sons of Anarchy' spreads mayhem across L.A.
The men huddled inside the barn, as body guards in leather jackets, chains and foot-long knives swatted away flies and eyed each other with suspicion. After a tense exchange, the men got down to business to discuss a weapons deal involving a Mexican cartel.
Whether staging weapons deals, staging gun fights or motorcycle chases, the FX television series “Sons of Anarchy” is creating mayhem all over Los Angeles -- and that’s a good thing.
Since its 2008 debut, “Sons of Anarchy,” an edgy, one-hour drama about a gang of motorcycle outlaws, has become a staple of local TV production. The show shoots in all corners of L.A. county, from Simi Valley to the arts district in downtown Los Angeles.
“We’re everywhere,’’ said director and executive producer Paris Barclay during a break from shooting a scene at the Simi Valley barn.
That’s welcome at a time when fewer TV dramas are filming locally. On-location shoots for TV dramas dropped 20% in the third quarter compared with the same period a year ago, reflecting the cancellation of long-running dramas such as “24” and more shows being filmed in New York.
FX recently ordered a fifth 13-episode season for “Sons of Anarchy,” which has become the network's highest-rated series and one of the top-rated dramas on basic cable. The show employs 150 crew members and has a budget of between $2 million to $2.5 million per episode, making it a valuable contributor to the local production economy.
“That’s money spent on wages, vendors and local companies, so when you look at an economic impact of a full season of a popular drama like ‘Sons of Anarchy,’ it’s substantial,” said Todd Lindgren, spokesman for film permitting group FilmL.A. Inc.
“Sons of Anarchy,” which recently completed filming its fourth season, stars Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman and Katey Sagal and is set in a fictional town called Charming near Oakland in Northern California.
The show’s creator, Kurt Sutter, spent time with a motorcycle club to research his story and often has local club members serve as extras. He acknowledged that others had pitched the idea of a drama about outlaw bikers, but said the stories didn’t reflect reality.
“For the most part they (outlaw bikers) were portrayed as either funny, good characters, or straight scum bags with no redeeming quality. Like anything else, there is truth to all of those stereotypes,” said Sutter.
“Sons of Anarchy’s” main set is at Occidenta Studios in North Hollywood. The crew spends at least three of seven shoot days filming in various locations around L.A., often in the Sunland area.
Other sites have included the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster, where the gang was released from prison; and the old Golden State Freeway just north of Castaic, site of a car crash and gun fight scene with 20 stunt people.
Typically, the filmmakers are trying to pass off L.A. for Oakland. For some episodes, they faced a harder challenge of making L.A. look like Belfast, Northern Ireland, where some of the story takes place.
Producers shot some footage in Northern Ireland, but to keep costs down most of the scenes were filmed locally.
Set designers built a 60-foot set to look like a back alley in Belfast, complete with political murals. A park in Chatsworth was the setting for a shootout between the gang and some rogue Irish Republican Army commandos. The park was meant to represent farmland outside of Belfast, but the grass was too brown. With some digital enhancements, green color was added to make the grass look more like the Emerald Isle.
“In most cases, we find just about anything we need to shoot here in L.A.,’’ said location manager Gary Kesell. “We can double for anywhere -- even Northern Ireland.”
-- Richard Verrier
Photo: Equipment is moved into place in the barn as the FX show, "Sons of Anarchy," films on location at Brandeis-Bardin Campus American Jewish University in Simi Valley on October 4, 2011. Credit: Anne Cusack/ Los Angeles Times.