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Shooting in California’s backlot

Shooting in California’s backlot

Most might not know one of the most popular areas for film or TV production isn’t on a Hollywood studio lot.

Spanning over two counties in Southern California with landscapes such as dry lakes, mountains and deserts, the Inland Empire has had hundreds of film productions shoot in the land known as “Hollywood’s backlot.”

(Click here to view a map of locations)

The dramatic scenes from the Tehran International Airport in the 2012 Oscar winning “Argo” were shot thousands of miles from Iran, in Ontario. Ontario has also doubled for Miami International Airport in “Catch Me If You Can,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The California Steel in Fontana has passed as a German factory in “Mission Impossible III.”

Though popping up in pop culture has provided the Inland Empire with an extensive resume, the industry has had an even bigger impact on the economy in the area. The multiple productions shot in the region has had a multimillion dollar economic impact since 1994, according to economic reports from the Inland Empire Film Commission.

Run by Sheri Davis and Dan Taylor, with the motto ‘if you’re working, we’re working,’ the film commission’s two-person team works an endless 24/7 schedule to help every production that comes into the area find the best location possible and ensure they get the necessary permits.

Though the duo works tireless hours, Davis credited location managers and location scouts as an imperative element to making the film commission work.

“It doesn’t matter who’s producing it, who’s directing it, who’s starring in it— if a location manager or scout doesn’t come out here on the ground with us, we’re not going to get the project,” Davis said.

Greg Alpert has been a location manager for more than 20 years and has had a handful of his projects film in the Inland Empire.

“There’s definitely great, different visual landscapes that are out there,” Alpert said. “Sheri has been extremely helpful. They have good relationships with agencies in the area to cut through the red tape.”

Alpert did the reshoots for “Argo” at Ontario Airport, along with the 2009 film “Frost/Nixon.”

Alpert said he likes shooting in the Inland Empire for the number of interesting looks and options it has. He’s scouted The Mission Inn in Riverside, which he described as a magnificent turn of the century hotel, numerous times but never shot there.

Location Manager Geoff Juckes  worked on the 2008 film “Valkyrie,” which shot in the Cougar Buttes desert to pass for North Africa. He said he always enjoys being able to shoot in the Inland Empire because of the amount of support he gets from Davis and Taylor.

“If I have any say in it, I certainly try to get in that area because of the cooperation I get from Sheri with the permits makes it much easier,” Juckes said. “So often you go to places where they require two weeks notice. Sheri’s worked for years to expedite and turn permits around in two days.”

Taylor said the most a permit has cost to shoot in the area was a couple thousand dollars, which is minimal compared to the costs in LA, but most average $450.

Last year, the Inland Empire had 690 projects shoot for more than 1,500 days. Commercials and features accounted for 55 percent of the more than $40.5 million economic impact for the year, according to the film commission’s economic impact report. A slight increase compared to the more than $30.8 million economic impact in 2012, though nothing compared to the $105 million year in 1996.

Taylor said productions chose to work with the film commission because of the effort they put into finding a suitable location, regardless of whether they end up filming in the Inland Empire.

“All the film commissions work together we’re always referring each other so if we don’t have it, we’re going to send them off to a film commission that does, because the whole point is to keep the filming in the state,” he said.


About Jessica Wenck

Jessica Wenck graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.A in Cinema and a B.A in journalism. Her career goal is to be an entertainment broadcast news reporter, ultimately becoming an entertainment anchor.

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