On a recent March morning, crowds of movie extras dressed in tuxedos and couture gowns huddled together against the chill on the steps of City Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Crews maneuvered New York City taxi cabs into place to transform Spring Street into a convincing movie simulacrum of the Big Apple’s most glamorous fashion event — the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Met Gala.
The rush hour commotion was for an exterior scene from “Ocean’s Eight,” Warner Bros.’ all-female reboot of the popular caper franchise. The movie, set for release next year, features an elaborate heist at the Met Gala and was shot mostly on location in New York. But for at least one scene, City Hall’s grand steps will stand in for the Upper East Side museum’s glitzy fashion ritual.
City Hall has historically been a popular filming location and now hosts about 50 shoots a year, according to FilmLA, the nonprofit that oversees film permitting in the city and county. While studio productions like “Ocean’s Eight” keep City Hall buzzing with filming activity, the landmark building is also drawing more productions from streaming services, including two series from Amazon and a Netflix feature movie.
“It’s just a beautiful building,” said Jason Kaplon, location manager on Amazon’s “Goliath,” the legal series starring Billy Bob Thornton as a washed-up L.A. attorney looking for redemption. “The show is about all these trials and so it made sense for us to shoot one of the most iconic buildings in downtown.”
The series filmed throughout City Hall during the spring and summer of last year for its first season, which premiered in October. The crew shot the building at different angles, including aerial views of its distinctive tower and the footbridge that spans Main Street.
Amazon was back at City Hall in November to shoot scenes for the third season of its neo-noir detective series “Bosch,” which is set to premiere next month.
Although the city is accommodating to crews, they have to work around the building’s daily activity, said Paul Schreiber, supervising location manager for “Bosch.” “City business still needs to occur and certain areas are more off limits than others.”
But at the end of the day, “the payoff is great because it always looks great.”
“There’s hardly a week that goes by when there isn’t filming here,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose offices are located on City Hall’s third floor.
The bustling activity comes at a time when the L.A. region overall has experienced a boost in local production, with on-location shooting in the area rising more than 6% in 2016 from the prior year. At the same time, streaming companies are ramping up production on original series in a bid to own their shows instead of licensing content from studios.
“I love that these are people who are spending money on our main streets and in our backyards,” said Garcetti. “It’s also about strengthening our social fabric,” since more crew members are able to shoot locally instead of out of state and can therefore spend less time away from their families, he said.
Netflix filmed scenes at City Hall in November for its Will Smith feature film “Bright.” The movie, premiering in December, follows a pair of cops as they navigate through an alternate-universe L.A. populated by orcs, elves and other fantastical creatures.
Other major productions to shoot at City Hall in the last year include the upcoming Johnny Depp movie “Labyrinth,” the CBS legal drama “Doubt” and the Fox series “Lethal Weapon.”
Like most other city buildings, City Hall doesn’t charge a fee for productions to shoot on the premises, according to FilmLA. But there are other related expenses such as permit fees and supervisory personnel fees that are assessed at cost.
Other perks include a vacant lot across Spring Street where crews can park trailers and other production vehicles.
Although the city doesn’t reap much money from on-location shoots, it nevertheless makes shooting on city property relatively hassle-free as a way of encouraging local production, and thereby stimulating the overall economy.
The Art Deco City Hall, which dates to 1928, has made appearances in numerous movies and TV shows. It has been featured in “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential” as well as the TV series “Dragnet” and “Adventures of Superman.”
More recently, City Hall put in appearances in “Hail, Caesar,” “The Nice Guys” and “Gangster Squad.”
As mayor, Garcetti has had a front-row seat to many of these productions and has even participated in some of them. He has called “action!” on the set of TNT’s cop drama “Major Crimes,” which has filmed several times in City Hall. He also had a cameo role in the TBS comedy “Angie Tribeca,” which shot a scene outside his offices.
But Garcetti, who is a SAG-AFTRA member, didn’t want to play himself in the spoof-comedy series. “I asked them, can I get out of being typecast?” Producers agreed, and Garcetti played a member of his own security detail.