On Location: Occupy L.A. upstages film production at City Hall


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Many in Hollywood are sympathetic to the goals of Occupy L.A. But the protesters are upstaging one of the industry’s most popular shoot locations.

With its distinctive concrete tower and Greco-inspired architecture, City Hall has long been a favorite of location managers as an iconic symbol of Los Angeles and a stand-in for everything from Congress to courtrooms of New York in numerous movies, television shows and commercials.


In the last two months, however, film production around the 32-floor landmark building has fallen off sharply, largely because its 1.7-acre lawn has become a base camp for an entirely different kind of production.

Since Oct. 1, Occupy L.A. protesters have been inhabiting a sprawling tent city as part of a nationwide campaign to draw attention to economic inequalities in the country.

“Most [film crews] are avoiding City Hall at this point,’’ said Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A., the city’s film permitting group. “They can’t even get their parking vehicles in the area and it would be very difficult to run cable with that many people there.”

And there are no signs that protesters are going to vacate any time soon, despite announced plans by the city to evict them. On Monday, protesters filed a federal lawsuit to bar police from closing the camp, which surrounds the city block between Main and Temple and First and Spring streets.

Over the last eight weeks, there were only nine film shoots in the City Hall area, about half the number that occurred during the same time a year ago, according to FilmL.A.

Those included shoots for the Warner Bros. forthcoming release “Gangster Squad,” which filmed in the mayor’s press room in City Hall just when the protest began in early October; a McDonald’s commercial; and the TNT legal comedy series “Franklin & Bash.” A USC student also shot a movie on the site about the protests called “Occupy Together.”

The falloff has contributed to an overall decline in location filming this quarter. Shooting on city streets and unincorporated areas of the county has been down at about 10% over the last two months compared to the same time a year ago, mainly due to the migration of movies and TV shows to other states and a cutback in location filming by cost-conscious producers.

Still, no one in the Hollywood community is complaining about the protests, at least not publicly. “Everybody has been very tolerant of it,’’ Audley said. “They’re just trying to go with the flow and are seeking out other locations.”

The only production currently scheduled to shoot at City Hall in the near future is “Gangster Squad,” starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Sean Penn, which plans to film an additional scene on the premises.

A fixture on the municipal landscape since it was completed in 1928, City Hall has appeared in scores of classic TV shows such as “Dragnet” and “Perry Mason” as well as the crime movie “L.A. Confidential” and science fiction thriller “Escape from L.A.,” whose visual effects wizardry made the building look like it had collapsed and the city was in ruins.

More recently, City Hall has been featured in recent movies as “Rampart” and “Atlas Shrugged: Part I,” based on the Ayn Rand novel. A number of local TV series also have used the property, including the sci-fi series “Torchwood” and the short-lived ABC legal drama “The Whole Truth.” The now defunct TV series filmed an elaborate scene last year on Spring Street in front of City Hall, which was made to look like the New York City Criminal Court in Manhattan.


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--Richard Verrier

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