On the fourth floor of a vacant wing of St. Vincent Medical Center near downtown Los Angeles, some 150 crew members crowded the hallways, joining actors Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson as they prepared to film a scene for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
The hospital wing is often used for filming television crime dramas such as “CSI” and “Private Practice,” but Tuesday’s shoot was among the largest St. Vincent has accommodated in 20 years of renting out its facilities to Hollywood.
“The hospital staff was quite excited,” said Jody Spector, director of patient relations for St. Vincent Medical Center, which will generate about $50,000 in fees from the filming activity. “We support keeping filming in L.A.”
After shooting most of 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger” in the United Kingdom, partly to take advantage of British film tax credits, Disney-owned Marvel Studios opted to produce most of the second movie in L.A.
The decision marks a rare coup for a region that has seen the steady exodus of big-budget features to such states as Louisiana, New Mexico and North Carolina, which hosted Marvel’s upcoming “Iron Man 3" movie.
Nearly 200 crew members and two units are working on the production, making it one of the largest big studio features produced primarily in L.A. since Paramount filmed “Star Trek Into Darkness” last year.
“We’re shooting all over Southern California, from the beaches to the mountains,” said James Lin, supervising location manager for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” set for release in April 2014.
Other recent locations have included the basement of the Sears, Roebuck & Co. building on Olympic Boulevard and the Westfield Topanga Shopping Mall in Canoga Park, according to film permits.
At least half of the 80-day shoot will be in Southern California, with the remainder of the scenes being filmed in Washington, D.C., and Ohio, where the movie has reportedly been approved for a $9.5-million tax credit.
Despite filming most of its first two “Iron Man” movies in California, Marvel has increasingly taken its movie business elsewhere, capitalizing on film tax subsidies in other states and countries.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” however, could not qualify for a California tax credit because that program excludes movies with budgets greater than $75 million.
So what prompted the change? Why film in California?
Unlike the first movie, set in World War II Britain, the second film is set in contemporary America, making it easier for California to serve as the filming location, sources close to the production said.
Marvel Studios executives Louis D’Esposito and Kevin Feige also concluded that the cost savings to film outside of California weren’t as great as initially thought.
“Through our brainstorming we realized that if you do a hard comparison in terms of what actual money you get from the rebate, and the actual money you might spend for hard costs, such as per diems for housing, food and travel, sometimes it’s a wash,” Lin said.
Local unions welcomed Marvel’s decision.
“These type of films provide good, high-paying union jobs with motion picture health and welfare benefits,” said Steve Dayan, business agent for Teamsters Local 399, which represents casting directors, location managers and drivers. “I’m obviously very happy that a major motion picture would choose to stay in California.”
Not all of Dayan’s colleagues were celebrating, however.
The “Captain America” crew was met with protests Tuesday during filming at St. Vincent Medical Center by members of Local 47 of the American Federation of Musicians. The AFM said the protests were intended to call attention to Marvel’s reliance on European musicians, particularly those in Britain, to produce the scores for its successful action movies.
AFM officials called it “unfair” that local musicians were excluded from the crew of the newest “Captain America” film.
“Recording musicians are upset that rather than employ local musicians, Marvel Entertainment pockets millions of tax dollars from U.S. tax credits meant to keep work in the United States and instead hires foreign musicians on the cheap,” the union said in a statement.
Representatives of Marvel declined to comment.
The outsourcing of musical score work has been a long-standing complaint of AFM, which represents 90,000 musicians in the U.S. and Canada. The AFM held similar protests in August 2012 outside a location shoot in Wilmington, N.C., for “Iron Man 3.”
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, Pasadena and Santa Clarita. Thomas Suh Lauder / Los Angeles Times