"Region is a Big Draw for Filmmakers"
by Larry Vivanco, San Bernardino County Sun, 24 October 2006

Lights. Camera. Action.

The Inland Empire has become Hollywood's largest backlot, showcasing the region and contributing millions to the local economy.

The Kaiser Steel plant, now known as California Steel, in Fontana doubled as a German factory in "Mission: Impossible III." The casino at Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa in Cabazon will be made to look like a Las Vegas casino in the upcoming movie "Next," starring Nicolas Cage.

More than 100 movies and television shows have been filmed in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, and the San Bernardino National Forest.

"It's probably one of the best-kept secrets," said Dan Taylor, production coordinator of the Inland Empire Film Commission.

Every time a shoot is held in the region, the actors and crew members stay at local hotels, eat at local restaurants and shop at local stores.

"Once done shooting, they become tourists," Taylor said.

All that spending adds up.

For example, "Fear Factor" was shot twice in the region - at San Bernardino International Airport and at the Interstate 210 extension. Both locations provided the space needed for stunts.

Each time the reality show was shot here, about $200,000 was spent on hotels, restaurants, local hires, equipment and vendors, said John Grant, a freelance location manager for television shows and commercials.

"We stayed locally at the Hilton on Hospitality Lane," said Grant, a University of Redlands alumnus who won a California on Location Award in 2005 for his work on the show "24."

The Motion Picture Association of America reported that the economic impact to the Inland Empire of films shot in the area was $131 million in 2003, the latest year for which figures were available.

However, that's a drop from 2002, when the Inland Empire reaped $250 million.

The area has drawn productions because of its scenery, space, freeways, proximity and friendliness, according to location scouts.

After finding places in Germany to shoot "Mission: Impossible III," director J.J. Abrams had to be sold on shooting the movie locally, said Becky Brake, the supervising location manager.

"We scouted far and wide in the state of California," she said.

Her location team was recognized this month for shooting the film in the state.

Brake had scouted Kaiser Steel before for the movie "Primary Colors," which ended up being shot elsewhere. She remembered the location for "Mission: Impossible III" because it has a look that is not easy to replicate, she said.

"It was very cinematic. It's got that old grit," Brake said.

The movie also featured the windmills in north Palm Springs.

"That was a big coup because we had to do a major stunt - fairly major in that it was a helicopter-chase sequence," she said.

Finding the right location starts when location scouts call the film commission to be directed to places that have a certain look, like a mountainous region, 10 miles of paved road or a cemetery with headstones.

It's the diversity of locations in the Inland Empire that makes it attractive, Taylor said.

"It's one of the very few, if not only, places in the U.S. where you can film in mountains in morning and that afternoon be in the desert and do a desert shoot," he said.

The San Bernardino Mountains can be ideal for a movie set in California or even on the East Coast.

The region's proximity to Los Angeles allows crews and actors to drive to the set, saving money on airfare.

"They don't have to fly anywhere to get to it," Taylor said.

Being within an hour of Los Angeles also allows crew members and actors to stay close to home, which is what Cage wanted because he recently had a baby, said Liz Matthews, who was named location professional of the year for "Next."

The movie is set in Flagstaff, Ariz., but was filmed at the Cliffhanger Restaurant in Crestline as well as Running Springs, Big Bear Lake and Morongo Casino.

Six weeks before shooting, about 30 construction workers stayed at local hotels while transforming the restaurant into a motel.

When the movie was filmed for three weeks out of a 12-week shooting schedule, about 180 crew members stayed in Big Bear Lake, she said.

"It was great. When we were filming there, it was foggy and raining and it was really horrific one night here when we were doing night shots and they had lights set up and the place looked great," Matthews said.

"This young couple pulled up - they weren't from the area and they had been driving through the fog and they said, `Excuse me, do you know if there are any rooms available?' I had to say `I'm sorry it's not real."'

In addition to the mountain communities, another popular filming location is San Bernardino International Airport, formerly Norton Air Force Base.

The airport still has military infrastructure intact, including tarmacs and runways, said Shari Davis, director of the Inland Empire Film Commission.

"They haven't totally gotten away from all the buildings that still represent the military. They have huge hangars - that's always appealing," she said.

Busy airport scenes in such movies as "Blow" are often shot at Ontario International Airport because it has a closed terminal ideal for filming without the hassle of renting space from airlines or car-rental companies, Taylor said.

Another bargaining chip the Inland Empire has is the construction of the I-210 extension to Highway 30.

"In dealing with (I-210), it's the only game in town," Grant said.

"In Southern California, it's the only section of interstate highway that is unopened to the public and completed in terms of concrete, rails, lines, stripes and dots."

It was where "Transformers" was shot about two months ago.

"We did a lot of car crashes and stunts on that stretch, including a bus traveling 70 mph, which was made to explode," said Scott Trimble, key assistant location manager.

"When it did, the two halves of the bus kept continuing tumbling down the freeway, crashing into other cars," he said.

"There's a very limited number of freeways we can actually do stuff like that on. And fortunately for the Inland Empire, they happen to have one of them. So that's what drew us out there."

Also, the Inland Empire can provide ancillary locations in addition to primary ones, Grant said.

"They're not burned out on film, which is a problem that we do have in Los Angeles," he said.

Overshot locations have a tendency to be not very accommodating anymore, he said.

Some burned-out locations include Hancock Park, downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Pasadena, Grant said.

"There are 87 municipalities in the general Southern California area. There's about 10 of them I won't even scout in unless I'm directed to for various reasons, primarily burnout and also permit complexities," Grant said.

The Inland Empire Film Commission is known in the industry to be film-friendly and offers assistance in securing the proper permits to film at locations and getting roads closed.

"I think we're one of the first calls because this is an industry of relationships," Davis said.

The film commission's motto is, "If you're working, we're working." And Davis has made herself available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

To further promote the 27,000 square miles in the Inland Empire, the film commission is planning to produce a video and market more intensely to the East Coast.

Location managers are encouraged and recognized every year for keeping productions in the state.

However, filming is leaving California due to the lure of financial incentives, such as tax rebates, in other states and Canada.

"We have definitely been hit with a decline in feature films because of the financial incentives to go out of state," said Amy Lemisch, director of the California Film Commission.

But the state does have the most trained professionals in front of and behind the camera, she said.

"People would prefer to shoot here if they can, but sometimes (because of) their budgets, they've got to go where they can reduce their bottom line," Lemisch said.

"NEXT," starring Nicolas Cage
filmed in Crestline, Running Springs, Big Bear, Cabazon

"TRANSFORMERS," Starring Josh Duhamel, Jon Voight, Bernie Mac
filmed in Rialto, El Mirage Dry Lake

"THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT," starring Lucas Black, Brandon Brendel
filmed in Victorville

"MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III," Starring Tom Cruise
filmed in Fontana, Palm Springs

"RED EYE," starring Rachel McAdams
filmed in Ontario

"HERBIE: FULLY LOADED," starring Lindsay Lohan, Michael Keaton
filmed in Fontana, Adelanto

"THE ISLAND," starring Scarlett Johansson, Ewan McGregor
filmed in the Salton Sea

"JARHEAD," starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx
filmed in Victorville

"MEET THE FOCKERS," starring Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller
filmed in Ontario

"MR. AND MRS. SMITH," starring Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt
filmed in Lucerne Valley

"THE AVIATOR," starring Leonardo DiCaprio
filmed in San Bernardino

"HIDALGO," starring Viggo Mortensen
filmed in Baker, Ridgecrest

"BAD BOYS 2," starring Martin Lawrence, Will Smith
filmed on the Interstate 210 extension

"CATCH ME IF YOU CAN," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken
filmed in Ontario

"THE CAT IN THE HAT," starring Mike Myers, Dakota Fanning
filmed in Pomona

"HOLES," starring Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Patricia Arquette
filmed in Trona, Cuddeback Dry Lake

"THE INCREDIBLE HULK," starring Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott
filmed in Yermo, Victorville

"THE ITALIAN JOB," starring Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton
filmed in Rancho Cucamonga

"JUST MARRIED," starring Ashton Kutcher, Brittany Murphy
filmed on Mount Baldy

"KILL BILL VOL. 1," starring Uma Thurman, David Carradine
filmed in El Mirage

"KILL BILL VOL. 2," starring Uma Thurman, David Carradine
filmed in El Mirage

"SEABISCUIT," starring Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges
filmed in Hemet, Ontario, Pomona

"TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger
filmed in San Bernardino

"TORQUE," starring Ice Cube
filmed in Blythe, Desert Hot Springs, Palm Desert

"ALI," starring Will Smith, Jamie Foxx
filmed in Wrightwood

"THE GOOD GIRL," starring Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal
filmed in Victorville

"MR. DEEDS," starring Adam Sandler, Winona Ryder
filmed in Big Bear

"OCEAN'S ELEVEN," starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts
filmed in Palm Springs, Victorville

"PLANET OF THE APES," starring Mark Wahlberg, Kris Kristofferson, George Clooney, Tim Roth
filmed in Trona

"THE SCORPION KING," starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
filmed in Palm Springs

"THE SUM OF ALL FEARS," starring Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman
filmed in Victorville, Baker area

"THE TIME MACHINE," starring Guy Pearce
filmed in Riverside

"THE ANIMAL," starring Rob Schneider
filmed in Ontario

"BLOW," starring Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz
filmed in Ontario

"CHARLIE'S ANGELS," starring Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu
filmed in Fontana

"DR. DOOLITTLE II," starring Eddie Murphy
filmed in Big Bear Valley

"DR. T AND THE WOMEN," starring Richard Gere, Helen Hunt, Farrah Fawcett, Laura Dern
filmed on the Silurian Dry Lake, Baker area

"THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS," starring Vin Diesel
filmed in Perris and San Bernardino

"JURASSIC PARK III," starring Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Laura Dern
filmed in El Mirage

© 2006 / San Bernardino County Sun