Entertainment Industry

Category: On Location

Assembly committee supports extending California film tax credit

Brad Pitt in "Moneyball"

California lawmakers moved a step closer to approving a five-year extension of the state's popular film tax credit program.

The Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee unanimously voted to support a bill that would give funding to California' s film tax credit -- which expires next year -- through July 1, 2018.

“I’m pleased my bill to extend the Film and Television Tax Credit Program has continued to move through the Assembly with another unanimous vote today,” said Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar), author of the bill, known as AB 2026.  “With our state facing a 12% unemployment rate, it’s critical to extend this program which is a demonstrated job and revenue generator.” 

California sets aside $100 million annually for dozens of projects applying for credits between 20% and 25% of qualified production expenses for movies and TV shows.

Lawmakers first enacted the program in 2009 in an effort to compete with nearly 40 states that offer tax incentives and rebates to filmmakers.

The Assembly could vote on the bill this month, and the Senate is expected to take up a similar bill this summer.

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-- Richard Verrier

Photo: Brad Pitt in a scene from "Moneyball," which received a California film tax credit. Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon

Director sentenced to prison after abusing film tax credits

Richard Dreyfuss stars in Daniel Adams' "The Lightkeepers."

The director of two movies shot on Cape Cod has been sentenced to a maximum of three years in state prison after admitting he exaggerated expenses when he applied for Massachusetts film tax credits.

Daniel Adams pleaded guilty last month to larceny and making a false claim when he applied for state film tax credits for the 2008 movie "The Golden Boys," with Bruce Dern and the late David Carradine, and "The Lightkeepers," a 2009 movie starring Richard Dreyfuss and Blythe Danner.

Prosecutors said Adams overcharged the state by $4.7 million for expenses related to those movies. A Boston judge on Thursday ordered Adams to pay nearly $4.4 million in restitution and serve 10 years on probation after his prison sentence.

This case is one of several scandals nationwide involving abuses of film tax credit programs.

In January, filmmaker Harel Goldstein of Calabasas pleaded guilty to defrauding Iowa's now-defunct film tax credit program. Former Iowa Film Office Director Tom Wheeler was convicted last year of one count of misconduct over his handling of state film tax credits. And in 2009, a former top film office official in Louisiana was given a two-year prison sentence for steering tax credits to a local producer.

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-Richard Verrier

Photo: Richard Dreyfuss stars in "The Lightkeepers," directed by Daniel Adams. Credit: New Films Cinema

On Location: Virgin flies high with 'Departure Date' film

Airline

British tycoon Sir Richard Branson has made a career out of bucking conventions — opening a recording studio in a country estate, building an affordable, premium airline service with soft violet mood lighting and seat-back entertainment screens, and even launching a space tourism company.

Now Branson’s Virgin Group is breaking the mold in the movie business. Virgin’s America, Atlantic and Australian airlines have teamed up with the company’s new film and TV company to shoot a half-hour movie filmed and edited entirely aboard regularly scheduled commercial flights — believed to be a first.

Titled “Departure Date,” the airborne romance between two people who meet on a plane was shot over nine days and three continents last week during flights from Los Angeles to London, Dallas, Fort Worth and Sydney, Australia.

The project involved a crew and cast of 20, including actors Janeane Garofalo, Ben Feldman and Luis Guzman.

“Virgin airlines have swept all the awards for having the best entertainment systems in the skies, but a movie about falling in love with a stranger onboard a Virgin plane: now that’s in-flight entertainment!” said Branson, the founder of Virgin Group.

Directed by Kat Coiro, the film is part of a marketing campaign to promote Virgin’s services to Los Angeles. It will be featured as in-flight entertainment and will debut in June at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Virgin is also negotiating to land a TV deal for the film.

“We really wanted to [do] something that would convey the unique Virgin experience in a way that was meaningful and relevant to Los Angeles,” said Simon Bradley, vice president of marketing for North America for Virgin Atlantic. “That’s where the idea of a movie came in because of L.A.’s strong connection to the movie industry.”

Commercial airlines have long played a major role in scores of movies, including the 1980 screwball comedy “Airplane!”; the 2005 thriller “Flightplan,” starring Jodie Foster; and Paul Greengrass’ 2006 film “United 93,” based on an account of one of the planes that was hijacked and crashed on Sept. 11, 2001. But those movies took place mainly on soundstages, making the Virgin production particularly unusual.

“We pride ourselves on doing things that are a little bit different, and this is certainly an example of that,” said Jason Felts, chief executive of Virgin Produced, which released its first movie last year: “Limitless,” a sci-fi thriller with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. “As far as we know, nobody has made an entire movie at 35,000 feet.”

Filmmakers went out of their way to not turn the work into a blatant commercial for Virgin. The airline is a “character” in the film in much the same way that the hotel is a character in director Sofia Coppola’s 2003 independent film “Lost in Translation,” starring Bill Murray, and how the FedEx and Wilson brands had costarring roles in the 2000 Tom Hanks movie “Cast Away.”

“At the end of the day, the film stands on its own,” Felts said. “We’re telling a real narrative story. We’re not overtly trying to promote Virgin.”

The picture, which cost less than $1 million to produce, tells the story of a young man who meets the girl of his dreams on a plane, lets her slip away and then takes the journey of his life on three airlines to win her back. Along the way, he encounters a future version of himself.

Of course, filming at 35,000 feet poses certain logistical challenges that ground crews don’t ever encounter. Turbulence forced the crew to take a break from filming during one especially bumpy section over Iceland.

Producers also had to take pains to comply with Federal Aviation Administration rules limiting the size of liquid bottles used by the hair and makeup department. They enlisted lightweight hand-held digital cameras without the use of a dolly to film scenes that were shot mainly in first-class or business-class lounges and other discrete areas to minimize inconvenience to passengers. Some passengers volunteered to be extras in the production.

“I would never rule out doing a sequel,” Bradley said. “But we see this as pretty much a one-off.”

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-- Richard Verrier

Photo: Philip Baker Hall and Kat Coiro work on a scene aboard a Virgin America flight.  Credit: Jessica Stout / Virgin America. 

Where the cameras roll
Sample of neighborhoods with permitted TV, film and commercial shoots scheduled this week. Permits are subject to last-minute changes. Sources: FilmL.A. Inc., cities of Beverly Hills, Santa Clarita and Pasadena. Thomas Suh Lauder / Los Angeles Times

Location stills from 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' on display in L.A.

Dench Marigold Fox Searchlight

In "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," the low-budget movie from Fox Searchlight Pictures and Participant Media, seven middle-class British retirees decide to "outsource" their retirement to India.

Drawn by advertisements of the newly renovated Marigold Hotel, the retirees arrive in India to find a run-down dump far from the exotic and luxurious setting that they imagined.

The film, which opened in U.S. theaters Friday, was shot mainly in India in late 2010 with an all-star British cast including Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith and Graham Broadbent.

Photographs highlighting some of the Indian locations used in the movie went on display this week at an exhibition at the W Los Angeles hotel in Westwood. The photographs, taken in Jaipur and Udaipur, India, will be on display at the hotel through May 31.

Here's a look at some of the scenes:

PHOTO GALLERY

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Photo: Judi Dench on the set of "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." Credit: Ishika Mohan

Muted joy over jump in location film shoots in L.A. last month

Pacino Stand up Guys

Annette Bening, Al Pacino, Ed Harris and several other celebrities helped power a surge in feature film shoots on the streets of Los Angeles last month, but film industry officials were hardly star struck.

Thanks to a flurry of low-budget celebrity-packed pictures, location shoots jumped 74% in April over last year, continuing double-digital gains from the first quarter of the year, according to data from FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and county.

But the welcome news was tempered by the fact that most were features costing less than $20 million that don’t pack the same economic punch as big studio movies that mostly film in Louisiana, Georgia and other states with richer incentives.

California offers a credit of up to 25% of qualified production expenses, but the credit applies only to movies with budgets lower than $75 million.

What’s more, feature film activity, while up by double digits this year, remains a fraction of what it was during its peak more than a decade ago. And in a development that is more worrisome for Los Angeles, location filming for television shows — long a key driver of economic activity in the entertainment sector — continued to decline.

Production days for television shoots dropped 17% in April, after a 9% falloff in the first quarter, a trend that industry officials attributed to competition from states like New York, which hosted more than a dozen pilots this year. New York allocates $420 million annually to TV and movie production — four times as much as California.

“It’s a continuation of a trend we’ve seen for a long time," said FilmL.A. Inc. President Paul Audley. “The truth is California has put its toe in the water but really hasn’t become fully competitive to bring back the large features and TV dramas that produce the most spending and the most number of jobs for Californians.”

Audley said the California Legislature’s decision last year to extend the state tax credit by only one year instead of five sent the wrong message to the industry. A bill to extend the program five more years will be taken up by lawmakers this month.

“We need to see them make a true commitment to the industry," Audley said of the state lawmakers. “New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg routinely brags about how much business New York is taking from California.”

Although limited in scope, California’s program is having some effect in spurring local filming. Two of three new feature films that began filming in L.A. last month — the Lakeshore Entertainment comedy “Stand Up Guys” and the independently produced “The Look of Love” — each received approval for a state film credit.

“Stand Up Guys,” which stars Pacino and Christopher Walken in a story about aging con men, received approval for a $2.4 million credit, according to the California Film Commission.

“The Look of Love," a romantic comedy with Bening, Harris and Robin Williams, received an $800,000 credit. The production, which began its 26-day-shoot early last month, has filmed in multiple locations, including Mar Vista, La Canada Flintridge, Bergamot Station in Santa Monica and Aliso Beach in Orange County.

The crew will film in Venice this week, said Mike Fantasia, a veteran location manager who has worked on big-budget movies such as “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and “Green Hornet.”

“The movie is set here so it would have been hard to film anywhere else," said Fantasia, mulling offers to work on films in North Carolina and Florida. “It’s great to be working at home.... All the big boys are filming out of town.”

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—Richard Verrier

Photo: Al Pacino, seen holding an Emmy Award in 2010, is starring in a "Stand Up Guys," a movie filming in Los Angeles. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.

Where the cameras roll
Sample of neighborhoods with permitted TV, film and commercial shoots scheduled this week. Permits are subject to last-minute changes. Sources: FilmL.A. Inc., cities of Beverly Hills, Santa Clarita and Pasadena. Thomas Suh Lauder / Los Angeles Times

On Location: HBO's 'Hemingway & Gellhorn' sets global stage in San Francisco

HBO Kidman Hemingway & Gellhorn
In the upcoming HBO movie “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” actors Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman bring to life the passionate and stormy relationship between Ernest Hemingway and World War II correspondent Martha Gellhorn — the inspiration for the writer's classic novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

But the real star of the cable network's film, which premieres May 28, is the city of San Francisco and the Bay Area. Though the movie's story takes place in nine countries, it was shot over 40 days last spring entirely on location within about 20 miles of the Northern California city.

Filmmakers usually come to San Francisco because they want to capture the city’s unique look and historical landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge or the Fisherman’s Wharf.  In this case, the city and surrounding communities stood in for Spain, Finland, Cuba, New York, Shanghai, Key West, even Ketchem, Idaho, where the famous author took his life in 1961.

PHOTOS: Bay Area as a stand-in for the world

Producers relied not only on the area’s diverse locations but on state and local film incentives as well as advanced green-screen technology combined with actual historical footage from the period.
“We literally shot for every place, except for San Francisco," said Trish Hofmann, the film’s executive producer who will share her experiences on the HBO movie at an annual industry breakfast Friday in Los Angeles sponsored by the California Film Commission.

Typically, a film with so many foreign locations would have been shot overseas. But with a tight budget — less than $20 million — producers ruled out shooting in Europe.

They considered Puerto Rico but settled on San Francisco, partly as a practical matter. Director Phil Kaufman (“The Right Stuff” and “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) lives in the city, as do many of the actors, including Joan Chen, who plays Madame Chiang Kai-shek.

Local and state incentives also helped make the decision easier. “Hemingway & Gellhorn” received a $3-million tax credit from California's film program, which awards credits based on a lottery system.

“We set up a little shrine to pray for the tax rebate, with a candle, a bottle of Vodka, a picture of Hemingway and Gellhorn and a copy of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,' " Hofmann said. “When we got it, we celebrated — Hemingway style.”

The project received $600,000 more in rebates from the city for police expenses and the cost of renting a warehouse at the port for production offices and sound-stage space.

A rickety pier and wooden houses in China Camp State Park east of the Golden Gate Bridge provided the backdrop for scenes set in Key West and Cuba, with the help of a few palm tree props. The salt flats in the South Bay represented the rice paddies of China in the 1930s.

An old railway station in Oakland covered in graffiti and bird droppings was cleaned up to look like a hotel in Madrid, while Spanish Civil War scenes were filmed in an arid, flat area of Livermore east of the city that bears a remarkable resemblance to the Spanish countryside.

Shanghai of the 1930s was re-created in the back alleys of Chinatown, while Finland was represented by an actual Finnish church in Pacific Heights.

“If you challenge me, I can find you within 20 miles of San Francisco, 40 feet from anywhere in the world," said Patrick Ranahan, the film’s location manager.

Borrowing a technique Kaufman employed for his 1983 movie, “The Right Stuff,” producers also made extensive use of archival footage from the Library of Congress and other sources.  And they used advanced green-screen technology to insert actors into actual  footage from late 1930s Spain, World War II and other periods.

 “We spent a year before principal photography going through a 100 hours of archival footage," said Chris Morley, visual effects supervisor at Tippett Studio in Berkeley. “It’s the only way it could have been done.”

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Photo:HBO's film "Hemingway and Gellhorn," chronicling the romantic relationship between the writer and journalist, was filmed entirely in the Bay area, which stood in for 9 different countries. The Chinatown neighborhood of San Francisco stood in for Shanghai in the 1930s. Credit: Karen Ballard/HBO

Where the cameras roll
Sample of neighborhoods with permitted TV, film and commercial shoots scheduled this week. Permits are subject to last-minute changes. Sources: FilmL.A. Inc., cities of Beverly Hills, Santa Clarita and Pasadena. Thomas Suh Lauder / Los Angeles Times

Working Hollywood: Gábor Tóth runs the carriages in 'The Raven'

"The Raven"

Like any good gothic thriller, the first five minutes of “The Raven” open with a woman’s unhinged scream, copious quantities of blood and dark carriages thundering down a wet, cobblestone street. And while 33-year-old Gábor Tóth assumes no responsibility for the first two items on the list, he’s the first person ever to serve as a carriage coordinator in his native country of Hungary, where much of the film was shot.

In theaters April 27, “The Raven” stars John Cusack as author Edgar Allan Poe, who dons a detective cap when his grisly fiction becomes the inspiration for a serial killer. Carriages play such a big role that the production decided they needed to be under the supervision of a separate coordinator, who didn’t have the additional responsibility of set dressing and props.

Enter Tóth, who found himself with an unusual set of responsibilities: supervising the repair and transformation of a dozen carriages, coordinating the schedules of drivers and their horses, organizing the transport of the entire fleet between locations and ensuring safety on slick, cobblestone streets.

Luckily, Tóth had plenty of experience. When he was 11, he started visiting movie sets to help out his father, a set decorator. In the years since, Tóth has worked in set decoration and props on films including 2006’s “Day of Wrath” and television series such as the BBC’s “Robin Hood.” “The Raven” introduced him to a new aspect of the movie industry.

“It was nice to be so close during the shooting,” he said. “When I work in set decoration, I’m never present during the shooting. On ‘The Raven,’ I had the radio, and I was giving the sign for the carriages to start and stop. So it was quite interesting to be close to the fire.”

Improve your carriage: After property master Ray McNeill located about a dozen carriages and shipped them to the film’s location in Budapest, Hungary, Tóth’s work began. “The carriages were replicas [of models from the mid-1800s], so they were not real antiques,” said Tóth. “So we had the chance to transform them slightly as we needed. We were storing the carriages in a film studio, where there are local workshops, so there was some damage to the outside paint, and we had to repair them. We changed some of the covers of the seats inside. And we had to make it safe to stand at the back for stunts, so we made some metal bars to stand on, and we put some roof racks on the top to grab. Later on, we had to cover what the stunt people were standing on with rubber, so it wasn’t too slippery.”

The long lens of the law: The interior of a carriage isn’t the most spacious filming location, but Tóth did his best to make it easy for the camera department. “There were three quite similar dark carriages, and we had to paint them black and put a police logo on them,” he said. “And one of these was the hero one [used by the main characters], which was almost like the other two, but the carpenters had to make some windows openable for different camera angles from outside. We had to make the front window open and close, so they could place the camera on the driver’s seat looking back into the carriage.”

In the driver’s seat: These days, finding a good carriage driver is even harder than finding someone who knows how to drive stick shift. But Tóth knew exactly who to ask. “Horseback riding is quite a big part of Hungarian history,” he said. “I can’t ride a horse, but I know many people who work with horses. So there were two big runs when stunt people were driving the carriages, but other than that, the owners don’t really like to leave the horses to someone else. You need to know the horses and work with them a lot to see every sign of a problem or something. I just had to make sure everyone — horses, carriage drivers and carriages — got there on time, and the drivers [who were the owners] went through dressing and makeup and hair before they turned up on set.”

Rubber sole: A combination of rain, snow and cobblestones provided the perfect atmosphere for a film inspired by Poe’s work, but it was less than ideal for Tóth’s four-legged fleet. “The carriages have suspension, so when you’re sitting in the back, you don’t even really feel the cobblestones,” he said. “But it was quite bad for the horses. We had to put some special rubber horseshoes on, because on the wet cobblestones, the metal horseshoes were slipping too much. So this helped make sure none of the horses or the stunt people got hurt.”

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Photo: Carriages on Baltimore streets set the atmosphere for the gothic thriller "The Raven." Credit: Larry Horricks / Amontillado Productions

 

On Location: Echo Park Film Center teaches kids how to make movies

Echo Park Film Center

On a recent Thursday afternoon, 16 students ages 12 to 19 gathered around three fold-out tables in an Echo Park storefront on Alvarado Street. Shelves of film canisters, movie journals and how-to guides lined the bright red and teal walls of the 900-square-foot space.

Three teachers and a guest speaker instructed the kids to use an array of wooden blocks, plastic figurines and other knickknacks to build miniature models of their ideal cities. The brainstorming session will eventually culminate in a 16-millimeter student-made film that focuses on urban planning.

The two-hour class is part of a 12-week course from the Echo Park Film Center, a nonprofit group that serves as a unique community resource center for film. It provides free courses to disadvantaged youths to teach them how to make movies and a cinema house where aspiring independent filmmakers can screen their movies and talk about their craft.

Open since 2001, the Echo Park Film Center is the brainchild of Paolo Davanzo, 41, an experimental filmmaker, activist and former community college film professor. Born in Italy and raised in Irvine by an Italian father and a Canadian mother, Davanzo launched the center as a tribute to his late parents, who had immersed the family in volunteer work at homeless shelters, food banks and libraries.

Along with his life and business partner, Lisa Marr, Davanzo molded the space into a community center for all things film-related.

“L.A. needed a humble cinema house that celebrated nontraditional work and artists needed access to tools to make their films,” said Davanzo, one of three paid staff members at the center. “Kids needed a safe environment that applauded and celebrated their artistic skills.”

The Echo Park Film Center is primarily funded through a mixture of government grants and private donations, including from the Annenberg Foundation. It receives about $140,000 in annual donations, according to tax filings.

The center also generates more than $30,000 a year by renting film equipment — including 16-mm and Super 8 cameras, digital audio recorders, dollies and lights — and selling tickets for special screenings of experimental movies and documentaries.

A number of aspiring filmmakers have tapped into the center’s services, among them Nicholas McCarthy, who early in his career regularly screened his short films at the EPFC. The writer-director’s feature film “The Pact” premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and was acquired for distribution by IFC Midnight.

“Paolo was really generous with the space,” McCarthy said. “It can be daunting for someone to make a film in L.A., and the Echo Park Film Center is a safe environment for people to experiment and try things.”

But the main focus of the EPFC is on education. In addition to youth classes, the center offers free courses for seniors as well as affordable adult-instruction seminars on filmmaking, film processing, editing and animation. The courses range in cost from $75 for one-day workshops to $250 for eight-week-long classes, with discounts available for members.

Although a handful of nonprofit entertainment arts courses are available in Los Angeles, such as Hollywood CPR, an 18-month program at West Los Angeles College, the EPFC specializes in serving underprivileged junior high and high school students.

“From Day One, anyone that walks in and is committed and will come to class, we’ve accommodated and made space for,” Davanzo said. “We’ve never turned a student away.”

When the students turn 19, the maximum age at which they can qualify for free classes, they’re invited to volunteer as programmers, curators and teachers at the center.

“There was no other place that said, ‘It’s OK to be who you are or to not grow up this certain way, and it was empowering,” said student-turned-instructor Walter Vargas, 20. “The first film I made here was a portrait piece about my mother. Now I’m finishing up my first year at Cal Arts studying film and video production.”

In 2007, a $75,000 grant from the Annenberg Foundation enabled EPFC to expand its services even further. The center purchased an old school bus and transformed it into the Filmmobile, a mobile classroom and cinema used to hold filmmaking workshops and to screen classic films across the city.

EPFC also provides free on-location workshops for students at local schools, including Thomas Starr King Middle School in Silver Lake and George Washington Preparatory High School in Westmont, as well as for mothers and children at Good Shepherd Center in Westlake and former prostitutes in transitional programs through the Mary Magdalene Foundation.

“They came to work with me when I had a creative writing class one year and we did a film project,” said Steve Abee, an eighth-grade English teacher at King Middle School. “The Echo Park Film Center is really about creating a community of creative young people who are interested and engaged in making art in their city.”

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--Dima Alzayat

Photo: Students and instructors discuss upcoming film projects at the Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles. Credit: Glenn Koenig/ Los Angeles Times

Where the cameras roll
Sample of neighborhoods with permitted TV, film and commercial shoots scheduled this week. Permits are subject to last-minute changes. Sources: FilmL.A. Inc., cities of Beverly Hills, Santa Clarita and Pasadena. Thomas Suh Lauder / Los Angeles Times

Lucasfilm scraps plans for new studio in Marin County

Lucas
The force wasn't with George Lucas -- at least in his latest building plans.

Lucasfilm, the company behind the "Star Wars" movies, said it was scrapping plans to build a huge studio facility in Marin County, citing longstanding opposition from homeowners.

"The level of bitterness and anger expressed by the homeowners in Lucas Valley has convinced us that, even if we were able to spend more time to acquire the necessary approvals, we would not be able to maintain a constructive relationship with our neighbors,'' Lucasfilm said in a statement Tuesday. "We love working and living in Marin, but the residents of Lucas Valley have fought this project for 25 years."

Lucasfilm moved its headquarters and most of its employees, including its visual effects unit ILM, to the Presidio in San Francisco several years ago because it outgrew its location at Skywalker Ranch in Lucas Valley.  

The Marin County planning commission in February approved plans for 269,000-square-foot production facility on nearby Grady Ranch, about 15 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  But the project sparked heavy opposition from neighbors who complained it would create noise, traffic and environmental problems.

"We need the spaces we build to do our work,'' Lucasfilm said. "Movies are waiting to be made, and we must move forward."

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-- Richard Verrier

Photo: George Lucas is seen at Skywalker Ranch in San Rafael, Calif., in 2005. Credit: Eric Risberg / Associated Press

 

'Think Like a Man' brings romance to Culver City

Think Like A Man

The upcoming Screen Gems movie “Think Like a Man” is a romantic comedy based on a best-selling book by comedian Steve Harvey.

It’s also a love letter of sorts to Culver City, which plays a starring role in the movie.

“I came up with this idea that if we shot Culver City for Culver City, we could get the local politicians and shop owners on board and excited about this movie so that it would almost be a little post card for the community,” said Glenn Gainor, head of physical production for Screen Gems, a label of Sony Pictures Entertainment. 

Screen Gems considered filming in Georgia, where Harvey is based and which offers a richer film tax credit than California. But the company opted to film locally in part because it was able to save money by filming so close to its home base, cutting down on parking and transportation costs. Producers also enlisted the help of the Culver City Chamber of Commerce to find local merchants willing to showcase their establishments in exchange for a lower film permit fee.

“My motivation to shoot in Culver City was inspired by how movies used to be made," said Gainor. “The script needs houses, restaurants and streets. I said, 'Culver City has houses, restaurants and beautiful city streets. Why should we take it anywhere else?'”

“Think Like a Man” did benefit from a state film tax credit and also some local incentives from Culver City. Over the decades, many classic movies have been shot at the historic Culver Studios, including “Gone with the Wind,” “Wizard of Oz” and “E.T.”

But like other cities in L.A. County, the city has been squeezed by a loss of business to other states offering bigger film tax breaks. In an effort to live up to its motto as “The Heart of Screenland,” the City Council voted last year to suspend for five years a business tax that production companies must pay to film in the city. Screen Gems took advantage of the tax break, saving about $10,000, for “Think Like a Man.”

The film prominently features several popular eateries, including Rush Street on Washington Boulevard, as well as Akasha Restaurant and L’Epicerie on Culver Boulevard. Using lightweight digital cameras and LED lights that didn’t require big generator trucks, the crew also filmed in residential neighborhoods and at Culver City High School, where one of the characters, played by comedian Kevin Hart, challenges Metta World Peace and other Lakers basketball players to a pickup game.

The movie is a point of pride for city officials. “They actually did more than just use the city as a location, they called out a number of business names from the downtown community and that’s unusual," said City Councilman Andy Weissman. "Recognizing Culver City in a positive way is good for the brand.”

The movie, which opens April 20, also filmed in several downtown L.A. locations, including the JW Marriott hotel, the Ritz Carlton at L.A. Live, and Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant WP24.

Will Packer, the film’s producer, whose company Rainforest Films is based in Atlanta, said he was drawn to the idea of filming a different side of L.A.

“There are such interesting looks here -– the shops, the restaurants, the historic buildings. I thought this would allow us to stay close to the studio and showcase a side of Los Angeles that is not usually seen," said Packer, producer of the 2010 heist film “Takers” and the 2007 drama “Stomp the Yard.”

Packer was inspired to make the movie after reading Havey’s book “Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man.” “Everywhere I went women were reading this book and it intrigued me,’’ he said. “I thought this would make a really good movie.”

Packer got Harvey’s approval and brought him in as executive producer. “When I wrote this I never had any intention of this becoming a film,’’ said Harvey, who has starred in numerous TV shows and movies and hosts the nationally syndicated radio program "The Steve Harvey Morning Show." ”I was absolutely stunned by it, to tell you the truth, because it really captures the essence of the book.”

 

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On Location: Mayor Bloomberg touts production industry in New York

'Walking Dead' producer Gale Anne Hurd urges expanded tax credit

-- Richard Verrier

Photo:  Actor Kevin Hart, producer Will Packer and director Tim Story on the set of Screen Gems' comedy "Think Like a Man." Credit: Ron Batzdorff

Where the cameras roll
Sample of neighborhoods with permitted TV, film and commercial shoots scheduled this week. Permits are subject to last-minute changes. Sources: FilmL.A. Inc., cities of Beverly Hills, Santa Clarita and Pasadena. Thomas Suh Lauder / Los Angeles Times
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