When people talk about the worst things about Los Angeles, they often mention earthquakes, traffic, smog, the seasons don’t change, etc. Most people don’t mention one of the things I personally hate the most – filming in the city. I tell people visiting the city: If you see something weird, or unusual, or you didn’t notice it before, it’s probably for something being filmed.
Somewhat like earthquakes, I have assigned 4 levels for filming in the city:
Level 1 = low. It’s like a medium earthquake far away or a light earthquake close by. It barely makes a reaction. I’ve slept through some light earthquakes. I was in a movie theater once during a light earthquake. The movie kept running and no one left the theater.
In terms of filming in the city, it’s when I notice they’re filming something in another area. Sometimes there’s odd decorations – like Christmas decorations when it’s nowhere near Christmas. Sometimes streets are changed to how they looked in the past – like when they were filming “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” they temporarily changed some parts of Hollywood Blvd. Sometimes there’s helicopters or planes flying around for no apparent reason.
I remember one of the first times I noticed they were filming something was when I was going down Hollywood Blvd and I saw trucks and equipment on the side of the street. It turns out they were filming scenes for the first “Lethal Weapon” movie at night (the scenes where the car hits the bus and then explodes). One of weirdest things I’ve ever seen was a billboard on Sunset Blvd. The billboard was for a movie called “Napoleon” and had a picture of what looked like Danny DeVito but the name on the billboard said “Martin Weir”. I found out about a year later that the billboard was put up for a scene in the movie “Get Shorty”.
Other times I won’t realize that something was filming until I see the movie or TV show. I know exactly where they filmed the scene in “Lethal Weapon” when Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and another guy jump off a building. It’s on Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood. When I saw the movie, I was thinking “that’s what was going on that day they closed Santa Monica Blvd”.
Level 2 = medium. It’s like a noticeable earthquake. A somewhat strong earthquake far away or a medium earthquake close by. A little shaking for a moment or two. Maybe some things fall off shelves. It’s strong enough to be briefly mentioned on the local news. No significant damage but if you’re in a building you may be asked to evacuate for a little while.
In terms of filming, this is when they’ve closed a street or neighborhood for filming that I often drive through. Like a street I take to go to work. This happens several times a year when I work in Burbank because I would sometimes avoid the freeway and go east on Sunset Blvd and then go north on Highland Ave to get to Burbank. Hollywood Blvd and Highland Ave are often closed for filming of a movie or TV show (such as the Academy Awards).
It’s also when a restaurant, store, or office I want to go to is closed due to filming inside or in front of the building. This happens occasionally at the “Smoke House” restaurant across the street from Warner Bros studios. The number of movies and TV shows that were filmed inside that restaurant may surprise you.
Level 3 = high. It’s like a somewhat strong earthquake close by. Some strong shaking for few seconds. Areas close to the epicenter of the earthquake have some damage and maybe some injuries. It’s strong enough to make you hide under a desk or in a doorjamb for a few minutes. It would be the top news story when the news comes on.
In terms of filming, this is when something is filming near where I work – so the parking lot is full and they don’t let me walk in certain places, or near somewhere I spend a lot of time at – so they won’t let me enter the area, or they’re filming something noisy with guns or police sirens or helicopters close to where I live or work.
The biggest example of this for me is when they filmed “Die Hard”. I live a couple miles away from the building called “Nakatomi Tower” in the movie. I remember a few nights when the roof was A LOT brighter than it usually is and I would occasionally hear noise (although the top of the building was never completely blown up there were a few small explosions). I don’t specifically remember the day the helicopters flew through Century City and around the building, but some of my neighbors at that time remember.
There have been a few other times when there would be a helicopter circling above my house or there would be gunshots or sirens in a scene filming somewhat close to my house. I remember one time they were filming a TV show where two people were talking in a car as they drove somewhere. The car was on a production truck that drove around my neighborhood for a couple hours. There was another time when I heard fireworks although it was nowhere near the 4th of July and there wasn’t any local event that would use fireworks.
A friend of mine once told me that they were filming something close to his apartment one night with a loud car chase scene they filmed over and over. He couldn’t sleep it was so loud, so he went to a local store that was still open – which had a few other people who were also annoyed by the noise – and then called the police to report the noise.
Level 4 = VERY HIGH. It’s like a strong earthquake far away. Lots of shaking and some damage. An earthquake so strong that they will interrupt whatever is on TV to report it. There could be major damage and power outages close to the epicenter of the earthquake.
In terms of filming, this is when filming affects my life. The filming is in the office where I work or very close to where I live. So, the production trucks are filling all the parking in the area, or the street(s) are closed off because of filming. This is INCREDIBLY annoying. As I’m typing this there is a TV show filming something about a block away. The production trucks are taking up a lot of the parking outside my house.
The best example of this is the movie “The Player”. The house where June Gudmundsdottir (Greta Scacchi) lives in the movie is on my street. My house and my father’s old car can be seen in the background in a couple scenes. They filmed at that house for a few days. For those days, they didn’t want me to park near MY HOUSE. They also asked us not to make noise while they were filming. It was such an inconvenience that the production paid for at least one family living on my block at the time to stay at a hotel on the days they were filming.
There is NOTHING that compares to a strong earthquake in the city such as the 1994 Northridge earthquake. So, that is still the worst thing about living in Los Angeles. Other than that, if you asked me to pick between an earthquake or a filming on a level listed above, I’d probably choose the earthquake. A medium or somewhat strong earthquake would only last a few seconds and probably wouldn’t cause damage. Driving a few extra miles to get around street closures due to filming, or not getting any sleep due to noise from something filming in my neighborhood is a lot worse.
NOTE: I have heard stories of filming in New York City that are just as bad.