On Location: Amazon is a rising star in Hollywood

Steady cam operator Kenji Luster, left, and actor Titus Welliver, who plays Det. Harry Bosch, work on set in Hollywood.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Det. Harry Bosch walks down the drab, gray corridor of the Hollywood division of the Los Angeles Police Department.

He passes two suspects cuffed to the custody bench, including a drunk Santa Claus, and nods to the resident shoe shine guy before entering the detectives’ bullpen. Bosch approaches two detectives nicknamed Crate and Barrel and hands them an envelope with tickets to a Lakers-Thunder basketball game.

“I’ll take your rotation,” Bosch says.

“What’s the catch, Bosch?” responds Barrel.

“No catch. I’ve been in court all week. Bored outta my mind.”

The scene played out recently inside the historic Red Studios on North Cahuenga Boulevard, where set designers spared no expense to create a replica of the station, right down to the scuff marks on the walls and the tacky Christmas decorations.


The studio is where the TV series “I Love Lucy,” “Hogan’s Heroes” and “Seinfeld” filmed. Now, it is home to a new show called “Bosch,” about a relentless LAPD homicide detective played by veteran character actor Titus Welliver.

Occupying two soundstages and employing some 200 crew members, the elaborate “Bosch” set might easily be mistaken for a major network drama like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” or “Criminal Minds.”

Instead, it’s the hub of a new series from Amazon, the Seattle-based online retail giant that’s rapidly putting its footprint on Hollywood.

“Bosch” is just one of six series Amazon is filming locally. It’s part of a wave of high-profile digital media productions filming across Los Angeles at a time when many traditional TV dramas have filmed outside the state.

“Bosch” is based on the popular book series by mystery writer (and former Los Angeles Times reporter) Michael Connelly, who is also an executive producer on the series.

Other locally produced Amazon dramas include a new series from “The X-Files” creator Chris Carter called “The After,” about a group of strangers who must help one another survive in a violent world. Also on tap is “Transparent,” a dramedy about a dysfunctional Los Angeles family.


Like other online video services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle and YouTube, Amazon has been investing heavily in original programming to grab some business from traditional networks and cable channels.

Many of the new digital shows are produced locally.

Web-based TV production in Los Angeles has surged 353% from 2008 to 2013, according to a report by FilmL.A. Inc., which tracks film permits for the city and county. Web-based shows now account for as many production days in L.A. as sitcoms.

These shows aren’t just low-budget Web productions but high-end dramas like “Bosch” that employ hundreds of crew members and film heavily on location like conventional network or cable dramas. “Bosch” is set to launch next year with an estimated budget of more than $2.5 million per episode.

Amazon greenlighted 14 television pilots last year, including “Alpha House,” in which actor John Goodman portrays one of four senators who live together in Washington. The series, which is filmed in New York, is returning for a second season.

The online giant earlier this year greenlighted six new series to play on Amazon’s Prime Instant Video service. They were selected after viewers watched and commented on the initial episodes during Amazon’s pilot season.

“Original shows for us are an opportunity to make Prime Instant Video more special and valuable,” said Roy Price, vice president of Santa Monica-based Amazon Studios.


But Amazon faces some tough challenges as it attempts to expand the retail brand into entertainment, wading into an area already dominated by rival streaming service Netflix.

Amazon’s new scripted series aren’t as well known as Netflix hits such as “Orange Is the New Black” and the critically acclaimed “House of Cards,” which last year garnered considerable prestige when David Fincher earned a best director Emmy Award.

Price says he isn’t worried about the market being overcrowded.

“I remember when Fox was created as a network and everyone thought it was the end because it was going to be too much competition,” he said. “The key is to focus on great shows and get great people.”

“Bosch” was a natural choice for Amazon, which already had a relationship with Connelly through his books.

“Michael’s books have done very well on Amazon,” Price said. “Michael has a following and the script was good.”

Amazon has given Connelly a prominent role in shaping the series, including an insistence that it be filmed locally. He co-wrote the pilot and is heavily involved in the production.


“I’ve had enough success in books where I don’t need Hollywood,” he said. “I went into it saying, ‘They are going to do it my way, or I’ll just keep writing my books.’ I feel like I have a say and influence on everything, so that’s been great.”

It takes eight days to film an episode, and typically five of them are shot outside a studio stage. Recent shoots have occurred in Echo Park, Studio City, the Venice canals, downtown’s Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, the La Brea Tar Pits and the L.A. River.

“This show is very much about Los Angeles as Michael’s books are,” said Henrik Bastin, chief executive of Fabrik Entertainment, which is producing “Bosch” with Amazon. “We’re telling a very complicated story that takes us all over L.A.”

Many of the locations are featured in the book series, such as Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood.

“Harry Bosch has a lot of goodwill in town, so we’re working off that,” Connelly said. “It created a bit of a cushion when we started going into places and saying, ‘Hey, can we shoot here?’ We challenged everybody from location scouts to the production designer to go to the real places and be true to the books.”