How Location Scouts Discover Where L.A. Can Stand In for Other Cities

Thanks to frequent film and television location shoots, Angelenos can walk the streets of far-off cities without ever setting foot on a plane.

As a resident of downtown Los Angeles, I often turn the corner and suddenly find myself transported to Manhattan. Cabs bearing the "NYC TAXI" logo wait at the curb. Actors in NYPD uniforms huddle around a craft services tent.

How Location Scouts Discover Where L.A. Can Stand In for Other Cities

When I lived in Long Beach, my neighborhood regularly stood in Miami in shoots for Dexter and CSI: Miami. My nightly jogging route passed by a disturbing number of (fake) murder scenes.

A fascinating article by Artbound's Oliver Wang profiles Greg Campeau, one of the eagle-eyed location scouts who can see Miami in Long Beach, Phoenix in Santa Clarita, or "Anywhere, USA," in South Pasadena on behalf of production companies. A key requirement: to keep costs down, the locations must lie within a thirty-mile zone (the origin of "TMZ") stipulated by studios' labor agreements:

There are places outside the TMZ that Campeau wishes he could use more—"UC Irvine...it's a very neat campus"—but even inside the zone, there's a remarkable amount of visual diversity. As Campeau points out, within the TMZ, "parts of downtown and some parts of East L.A. can go for Philly, Pittsburgh, New York. You could play with Florida. Then you can also do Arizona, Phoenix, you know, out in Santa Clarita."

That thirty-mile zone is centered on the intersection of Beverly and La Cienega and includes a variety of landscapes within Los Angeles, Orange, and Ventura counties, as seen in this map from the California Film Commission:

How Location Scouts Discover Where L.A. Can Stand In for Other Cities

An important question: how does all this masquerading affect Southern Californians' perception of their own region? Wang doesn't address this directly, but he does suggest that Campeau's habit of sniffing out potential locations better attunes him to the city:

"People are always worried about getting from Point A to Point B," he adds, and in the process, they often miss the beauty of Los Angeles right under their noses, especially in places where you might imagine there is none.

Perhaps we should all try imagining our cities as somewhere else.

Top image: NYPD squad cars outside the LA Cafe on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Flickr user savemejebus. Used under a Creative Commons license.