When Warner Bros. wanted to shut down a highway for a scene from “The Hangover Part III” last month, they filmed the action not on the 405 Freeway but on a stretch of California 73 between Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.
Despite complaints from some, the two-day film shoot -- which took three months of planning -- was a high profile boost to Orange County, which has been trying to recover some of the film and TV business it lost over the last several years because of the recession and the migration of work to other areas outside of California.
“We’re trying to bring filming back to Orange County,’’ said Orange County Film Commissioner Janice Arrington. “This was an opportunity to say, ‘OC is available for filming.’ We can meet requests that take a great deal of planning.”
Although long overshadowed by its more famous neighbor to the north, Orange County has long provided a scenic backdrop for Hollywood classics, from the 1934 film “Treasure Island” to the 1954 movie “A Star is Born” starring Judy Garland. The old town area in the city of Orange famously played small town America in Tom Hanks’ 1996 hit “That Thing You Do!” and the Coen brothers’ 2001 movie “The Man Who Wasn’t There.”
But like other areas of Southern California, Orange County has seen a sharp falloff in production activity in the last decade. Exacerbating matters is that many locations in Orange County also are outside the so-called 30-mile zone. Films and TV shows filmed outside the zone have to pay additional travel time and, occasionally, hotel expenses to crew members, making them less attractive to producers.
“We used to get pieces of about a dozen major studio feature films a year,’’ said Arrington, a former assistant director. “That number has dropped to about three or four movies a year as other states have gotten more popular.”
Shutting down a freeway, however, was no simple matter.
Arrington worked with multiple agencies, including the California Film Commission and California Department of Transportation and the cities of Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Irvine to plan for “Hangover Part III,” the comedy starring Zach Galifianakis that is currently filming in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
“This required months of planning, especially in regard to mitigating the inconvenience to the local residents, and we found all involved to be incredibly helpful, thoughtful and collaborative throughout the process,’’ said Lisa Rawlins, senior vice president of public affairs for Warner Bros. Entertainment. “Everyone demonstrated enormous enthusiasm toward the production, and the results were clear: The shoot went off without a hitch.”
Location manager Gregory Alpert said the 73 highway had a less familiar look than other freeways such as the 105, which is frequently seen in commercials, and provided an iconic “Southern California look” that was ideal for the film.
“This is really the first time a freeway has been shut down in Orange County ... so it was a big deal,” said Alpert. “I hope it will lead to more filming down there.”
Other movies that filmed in Orange County in recent years have included the Oliver Stone-directed 2012 film “Savages,” which filmed in Laguna Beach, and “J. Edgar,” which shot at the old county courthouse in Santa Ana. The courthouse was the setting for the infamous murder and kidnapping trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann highlighted in the movie directed by Clint Eastwood.
“It was startlingly similar to the courthouse in New Jersey where the trial took place,’’ said location manager Patrick Mignano. Arrington “opened the doors for us,” he said.
A number of television shows also shoot scenes in Orange County, including “Criminal Minds,” “CSI: Miami,” “Beverly Hills 90210” and, of course, the reality TV series “The Real Housewives of Orange County.”
The best known show associated with Orange County, “The O.C.,” focused on the lives of a group of people in affluent Newport Beach. But the show was actually filmed mainly in Los Angeles.
Arrington has had to do more with less. Since 2008, her budget, financed by the county, local cities and private donations, has been slashed from $125,000 a year to $20,000, she said.
While that limits money available for marketing, Arrington attends local industry events, such as this week’s American Film Market in Santa Monica, to drum up business. She has been working with local park officials to streamline the film permitting process and promote more filming on the county’s beaches, such as Dana Point.
The Media Alliance of Orange County, a nonprofit charged with promoting local media and entertainment industries, has been hosting meetings with location managers and casting directors to highlight available film locations and crews.
“We want to make sure we don’t fall off the radar,’’ said Brad Hagen, board member of the alliance and president of Video Resources Inc. in Santa Ana. His company is producing one documentary about the life of photographer Ansel Adams and another about the hang gliding industry -- which started in Orange County.
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