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Locations, Locations, Locations

By Christine Bunish

Location shooting spells success for much programming on the small screen

Location shooting spells success for much programming on the small screen. A wide diversity of venues in close proximity to each other, a strong sense of place and local flavor, the authenticity of real brick-and-mortar neighborhoods and period sites all contribute to making audiences for The Glades, Mildred Pierce and Hung feel they know their characters and their worlds.

The Glades Unveils Another South Florida

Motion pictures and episodic television are not new to South Florida. Consider the impact of Miami Vice and the Bad Boyz franchise and, more recently, USA Network’s hit series Burn Notice. But there’s a new South Florida player in the mix, A&E’s original detective series The Glades, which debuted last year.

Set in the fictional, slightly sleepy town of Palm Glade, the series, from FOX Television Studios in Los Angeles, gives viewers a look at “a different side of Florida that they may have forgotten existed” with urban-based Florida productions dominating the screen, says location manager Leah Sokolowsky. “It’s the Florida that’s not showcased as much but is just as beautiful – a version of ‘old’ Florida, a low-density town bumped up against The Everglades. Finding it in a suburban, built-out area has been challenging but fun.”

A body falls onto a roulette table in a scene from The Glades shot in the Gulfstream Park Race Track & Casino in Hallandale, Florida. Photo: Gene Page/Courtesy of FOX Television Studios
A body falls onto a roulette table in a scene from The Glades shot in the Gulfstream Park Race Track & Casino in Hallandale, Florida.
Photo: Gene Page/Courtesy of FOX Television Studios

A location manager for almost 20 years, the lion’s share of it in South Florida, Sokolowsky has worked on both seasons of The Glades, 80-90 percent of which is shot in Broward County, much of it within a 30-mile radius of Pembroke Park. “The entire production is based here: production offices, set construction, the stage. It’s been phenomenal – you can get anywhere quickly,” she says.

As a member of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Det. Jim Longworth (played by Matt Passmore) is based in Palm Glade, but travels to crime scenes throughout the state – but all are represented by locales in South Florida.

“We’ve done quite a bit of Everglades and swamps this year,” Sokolowsky reports. “Everyone’s vision of The Everglades is different so that gives us a lot of flexibility in shooting: Being able to craft our own version is a wonderful tool.” Some Everglades-identified locations are really in The Everglades, but sometimes it’s not logistically feasible to shoot there, so state, county and municipal parks in eastern Florida have doubled for the area. “We’ve been very successful working with the park people,” she says. “A number of factors come into play when you’re making location decisions about natural, protected areas. They’ve been wonderful helping us reconcile production needs with those of a pristine environment.”

Shooting the Gibtown episode of The Glades at buildings on the New River owned by the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society (Matt Passmore in blue shirt). Photo: Glenn Watson/Courtesy of FOX Television Studios
Shooting the Gibtown episode of The Glades at buildings on the New River owned by the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society (Matt Passmore in blue shirt).
Photo: Glenn Watson/Courtesy of FOX Television Studios

Dania Beach north of Hollywood, Florida is a popular location for its beach and pier, and other locations. “We’ve been there five or six times this season,” she notes, “for a more rural, less dense look.” Homes from the historic Sailboat Bend neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale featured in an episode as did a cluster of buildings on the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale, which doubled for the carnival town of Gibtown. Owned by the local historical society, the New River buildings were a “gold mine” for a location manager, says Sokolowsky. “It was really fun creating the look of the town for the show.”

Recurring locations include the FDLE substation exterior, which is the non-profit Art and Cultural Center of Hollywood; Longworth’s house in Hollywood; the house of Longworth’s love interest nurse Callie Cargill (Keile Sanchez) in Fort Lauderdale’s Victoria Park; and Callie’s Palm Glade Regional Hospital, which last year was a dormant hospital in Oakland Park.

Interiors are shot in a Pembroke Park warehouse that’s slowly being converted into a soundstage.

A second-season episode with a NASCAR racing theme took the production to nearby Homestead, which has its own NASCAR facility. “We partnered with NASCAR for the episode, and the people at the speedway were amazing – very accommodating and easy to work with,” Sokolowsky reports. “This episode was a huge boost for the cast and crew. You get really energized seeing things up close and personal.”

Last year, the show took over the Gulfstream Park Race Track & Casino a few miles from the production offices in Hallandale for an episode based at the fictional Cold Stream Casino and, for a hurricane show, the popular Hyatt Pier 66 Hotel in Fort Lauderdale permitted special effects to blow “rain, wind and muck into their front lobby,” says Sokolowsky.

The Glades (Matt Passmore, right) shot a NASCAR-themed episode in Homestead, Florida. Photo: Glenn Watson/Courtesy of FOX Television Studios
The Glades (Matt Passmore, right) shot a NASCAR-themed episode in Homestead, Florida.
Photo: Glenn Watson/Courtesy of FOX Television Studios

The Governor’s Office of Film & Entertainment, working in conjunction with FOX Television Studios, also has been helpful in streamlining processes and permitting, as have county and city film commissions, especially when 24- to 48-hour turnarounds are needed. “They’ve really got systems that work quickly and effectively,” Sokolowsky says.

As a Broward County resident, Sokolowsky knows how rich in locations the area is: horse farms, cities, suburbs, historical buildings, Everglades-style terrain. “I’ve spent most of my career in Miami-Dade, so scouring the Broward community to find everything that’s available here has really been fun. And now, in the second season, local residents are identifying with the show, which has become a source of pride for the community.”

The diner where Mildred (Kate Winslet) gets her first job and meets Monty (Guy Pearce) was built in the front of a hairdressing school in Peekskill, New York. Photo: Andrew Schwartz/HBO
The diner where Mildred (Kate Winslet) gets her first job and meets Monty (Guy Pearce) was built in the front of a hairdressing school in Peekskill, New York.
Photo: Andrew Schwartz/HBO

New York Goes Hollywood for Mildred Pierce

The highly-acclaimed HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce has collected an armful of Emmy Award nominations for its retelling of the James M. Cain classic set in 1930s Southern California. When East Coast-based location manager Joe Guest signed on, the production had scouted locations in California, but teams also were scouting in New York. “A few locations, including Mildred’s neighborhood (found in Merrick, Long Island) and Hollywood (in Peekskill) sold them on the fact that the show could be done here,” he says.

If it sounds like a stretch that locales in Long Island, along the Hudson River and in New York City could double for LA 80 years ago, consider this. “Any period project immediately becomes a challenge: It’s not just where you can do it, but how you can create a world that doesn’t exist anywhere,” says Guest. “The California of the ‘30s isn’t around anymore in California either. You wouldn’t necessarily find any better period locations there than here.”

A neighborhood of Spanish-style homes in Merrick, Long Island doubled for Mildredís Glendale neighborhood. Photo: Andrew Schwartz/HBO
A neighborhood of Spanish-style homes in Merrick, Long Island doubled for Mildred’s Glendale neighborhood.
Photo: Andrew Schwartz/HBO

A key dealmaker was the Merrick, Long Island neighborhood of The Gables whose Spanish-style stucco houses doubled for Glendale, California – Mildred’s modest, middle-class home so despised by her scheming, social-climbing daughter Veda. “The houses were built to be a commuter suburb for workers at the Kaufman Astoria Studios,” in the borough of Queens, says Guest. “The studio workers were supposed to feel at home in a more California vibe.” Apart from installing new tile roofs on Mildred’s house and those of her immediate neighbors and trucking in tropical-style landscaping, the unique locale was camera-ready.

Manhattan’s Madison Avenue at 27th Street was transformed into downtown Los Angeles. “Not very many spots in New York City are left where you can get that period look and match the scale of LA with the wider streets,” says Guest. The classic New York Life building and landmark Met Life Tower fit the era and storefronts across the street got temporary awnings and other evocative set dressing. “The Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting was instrumental in permitting us to redirect pedestrians and traffic during shooting,” he reports. Nearby, Steiner Studios in Brooklyn served as the production’s stage facility.

Peekskill offered a great period diner for the Hollywood sequences where Mildred (played by Kate Winslet) takes a waitressing job and launches her restaurant career. “But it was critical for [director] Todd [Haynes] and the production designer to see street life through the diner window,” says Guest. “So there was a hairdressing school that let us transform the front of their building into the diner.” The street outside was dressed with a Kresge’s five-and-ten and bank building and vintage automobiles. “It was a great block of architecture, and everyone was excited about having us,” he recalls. The diner’s kitchen was a functioning kitchen in the basement of the House of the Redeemer Church on East 95th Street in Manhattan.

New York Cityís Madison Avenue was dressed as 1930s LA for Mildred Pierce. Photo: Andrew Schwartz/HBO
New York City’s Madison Avenue was dressed as 1930s LA for Mildred Pierce.
Photo: Andrew Schwartz/HBO

The location for the first restaurant that Mildred opens in Glendale was found in Point Lookout, Long Island. “The house we used was a model home built to sell homes in the area,” says Guest. Ironically, the fictional Mildred’s ex-husband was a homebuilder. To make the house look isolated and to block out neighboring vinyl-sided homes, photography cheated on the angle for the corner lot and got help from set dressing and landscaping.

The Cold Spring Harbor Beach Club in Long Island acted as Mildred’s second restaurant in Laguna Beach with its shorefront terrace and porch facing the water. “I remember scouting it years ago for a summer project, and they weren’t interested,” Guest notes. “But this time the project appealed to them and our timing worked out: We were able to get into the beach club and shoot before club activity picked up for the season.”

Glen Cove’s landmark Woolworth (yes, those Woolworths) Mansion was “an amazing architectural treasure” that served as the home of Monty Beragon (Guy Pearce), says Guest. “For a while it was leased as a corporate headquarters; it was privately owned when we used it. It’s a big property and you get that sense of bigness – the staircase, the huge rooms. We were able to achieve a sort of rundown quality – Monty’s living in the servants’ quarters because the place is too big and expensive to maintain. Then Mildred transforms it to its former glory. I think what helped us get the property was that the project honored the house for what it is in the story.”

The beautifully restored United Palace Theatre stood in for the LA Philharmonic in Mildred Pierce. Photo: Andrew Schwartz/HBO
The beautifully restored United Palace Theatre stood in for the LA Philharmonic in Mildred Pierce.
Photo: Andrew Schwartz/HBO

Another important find was the glorious United Palace Theatre in Washington Heights, the last of the Loew’s Wonder Theaters built in New York and now owned by the Christ Community United Church, which has restored it. It doubles for the LA Philharmonic where Veda (Evan Rachel Wood) makes her operatic debut. “There are only a few of those magnificent theater interiors left,” notes Guest, and even the exterior was “the right scale for the LA Philharmonic of the era.”

All over Long Island Guest found other “little magical pieces of 1930s LA,” including Caumsett State Park, which offered polo grounds, stables and a farm for Mildred’s produce shopping; it was even the locale of her car crash after leaving Monty’s mansion. “It’s a wonderful property that’s always been friendly to film production,” says Guest.

He was delighted to have found so many locations in Long Island’s Nassau County and western Suffolk County without having to tote 100-150 crew members, actors, extras and 10-20 tractor-trailer size vehicles to the eastern-most tip of Long Island, which some suspected would be more location rich.

“I couldn’t have done my job without the support of the New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and Television Development,” says Guest. “Many times they helped with the weight of their office. We discovered the whole concept of ’30s California in New York, and they can be proud of that. We were able to say, ‘In your face, California!’”

HBO’s Hung Hangs Out in Michigan

  Tanyaís apartment in Hung is a multi-family home in Hamtramck, Michigan. Photo: Lacey Terrell/HBO
  Tanya’s apartment in Hung is a multi-family home in Hamtramck, Michigan.
Photo: Lacey Terrell/HBO

HBO always has been known for its cutting-edge programming. Its much-praised original series Hung is the story of a struggling suburban Detroit high school baseball coach who moonlights as a male prostitute.

About 20 percent of the show is shot on location in Michigan with the balance lensed in California, which doubles for the Great Lakes state. David Wolfson has been the Michigan location manager for the show since the pilot; season three airs this fall.

“There is not one factor that determines where a location will be shot,” Wolfson says. “In general, exterior locations are favored over interiors, allowing better visual use of the real Michigan environment. At the same time, there are always some interiors in the location mix.”

Among recurring locations in Michigan is the house of well-endowed coach Ray Drecker (played by Thomas Jane) in West Bloomfield. “The house was picked to fulfill a story point of the main character living in a small, slightly rundown house next to a new, large house that dwarfed Ray’s by comparison. The houses also needed to be on a lake. Early in the story, Ray was living in a tent in his backyard. The lake visually opened the set and provided an environment for other scenes using Ray’s dock and swimming in the lake.” The apartment building of Tanya Skagle (Jane Adams), another recurring location, is in Hamtramck.

Hung also has used a hotel and bowling alley exterior (the latter doubling as an ice rink) in Troy, Michigan; a chain restaurant with parking lot in Walled Lake; and in the pilot, a high school gym exterior in Rochester Hills. The upcoming season made stops in Royal Oak, Birmingham and Hamtramck, and viewers will see local storefronts, a farm, parks, an apartment building, a bakery and a coffee shop adding authenticity to Ray’s Upper Midwest world.

An episode in season three features a bumper-car ride at an outdoor amusement park, a location that posed a challenge for Wolfson. “For most of the 20th century there was a large amusement park on an island in the Detroit River,” Wolfson explains. “Unfortunately, Boblo Island closed in 1993 and was not replaced. The bumper-car rides that currently exist are at small, indoor amusement centers.”

Luckily, production of the show coincided with the start of “festival season” in southeastern Michigan, he reports. “Almost every municipality has a carnival with amusement park rides. By contacting all the carnival organizations touring Michigan we were able to locate several that would be in the Detroit area during the filming period.”

The production did face a logistical challenge, however. “Festivals typically occur for only two to four days, and the rides are set up usually a day before the festival opens,” he notes. “After speaking to several carnival vendors, we found one who had the labor resources to work non-stop to set up the rides a day early. That allowed enough time between set up and the festival opening for Hung to film its scripted scene and maintain complete control over the carnival space. In the end, we were able to create an outdoor amusement park environment without the very large expense of erecting a carnival set.”

An episode of the new season of Hung features a carnival bumper-car ride, which proved a challenge to find for Michigan location manager David Wolfson. Photo: Lacey Terrell/HBO
An episode of the new season of Hung features a carnival bumper-car ride, which proved a challenge to find for Michigan location manager David Wolfson.
Photo: Lacey Terrell/HBO

Wolfson says that the Michigan Film Office has been “very helpful in dealing with Michigan government locations and connecting us with local government representatives. The majority of the Detroit filming area lies outside the city of Detroit. This remaining area mostly consists of small cities, many of which have limited to no experience with filming. The state film office helps liaise with these smaller municipalities.”

Municipalities that give Hung the Michigan flavor viewers have come to expect.