How Location Scouts Find The Places That Look Like Somewhere Else

How Location Scouts Find The Places That Look Like Somewhere Else

For filmmakers, Los Angeles is basically infinite. It is a mega-city that contains every other city within it—indeed, seemingly every other Earthly landscape is hidden somewhere in plain sight—whether it's a street that looks like Manhattan or a county park that literally looks like another world. In Los Angeles, something as simple as an empty parking lot can be transformed into a virtual window, a portal or gate through which film or TV crews can pull distant visions of another location. Around that corner could be Chicago, London, or even Seoul.

But who finds these locations, and how did they get so good at it? Location scouts are under-appreciated masters of the city, as blogs like Scouting NY make clear. Los Angeles, though, has a particularly deep and complex field for its location scouts to choose from, as Nathan Masters explores in his newest post for Southland.

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Original post by Nathan Masters on Southland

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

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.

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