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Cowboys, Mobsters, and Concierge Doctors

By Christine Bunish

Four states that are popular destinations for location production are showing different sides to episodic television audiences. Often thought of for its adobe-accented southwestern vibe, New Mexico displays high plains landscapes in Longmire.

Four states that are popular destinations for location production are showing different sides to episodic television audiences. Often thought of for its adobe-accented southwestern vibe, New Mexico displays high plains landscapes in Longmire. New York goes distinctly non-urban serving up beaches and affluent beachfront homes for Royal Pains. Florida rolls back the clock to spotlight 1959 Miami for Magic City. Even Texas, which has dusted off the iconic Southfork Ranch for the new Dallas, shows off a young and hip namesake city for the second-generation Ewings.

New Mexico Shows Its High Plains Side to Longmire

Sheriff Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) releases a bear in New Mexico's Pecos wilderness in an episode of Longmire. Photo: Warner Bros. Television Entertainment/Ursula Coyote©2012 WBEI. All rights reserved.
Sheriff Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) releases a bear in
New Mexico’s Pecos wilderness in an episode of Longmire.
Photo: Warner Bros. Television Entertainment/Ursula Coyote©2012 WBEI.
All rights reserved.

Although it’s set in Wyoming, A&E’s acclaimed new drama series, Longmire, is shot largely within a 60-mile radius of Santa Fe, N.M. Focusing on newly-widowed sheriff Walt Longmire (played by Robert Taylor) and the crimes that arrive on his big-sky doorstep, the series shows that New Mexico doesn’t have to be synonymous with a Southwestern look.

“Wyoming didn’t offer us a long enough shooting season with the extreme cold and extended winter you get there,” says producer Chris Donahue. “In New Mexico, we get more diversity of weather, plus a very strong crew base and tax credits.” Interiors are shot on Santa Fe’s celebrated Garson Studios where the show has its production offices.

A remarkably varied landscape meets Longmire’s need to “move around a lot,” Donahue notes. “For the bear release in the episode ‘The Worst Kind of Hunter,’ we drove about 50 miles northeast up the Pecos Valley and into the Pecos wilderness. The further north and east you go [from Santa Fe], you get the high plains look with Ponderosa pines and the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It’s more similar to Wyoming.”

Producer Patrick McKee says the show was on location a minimum of five of its seven shoot days per episode when production was underway between April and the end of June. “The first day of shooting we had snow in the afternoon. By the time we finished in June the temperature was in the 90s. So we had a bit of everything.” Location manager Rowan Stanland and her team “winnowed down locations,” he says, covering all of north-central New Mexico as their beat.

Although no tribal lands have been used as locations yet, Stanland imagines they will be – perhaps for season two. “The reservations have thousands of acres and a lot of unique specialty locations,” she reports. “And most of the pueblos are film friendly.”

McKee credits Stanland’s “deep knowledge” of New Mexico for finding locations that bring Walt Longmire’s world to life. Stanland has worked in the locations field for almost a decade, primarily in the Santa Fe and Albuquerque areas, and has the HBO original movie Game Change and the features Cowboys & Aliens and The Book of Eli on her resume. She notes that Longmire is the first series based out of Santa Fe: The long-running In Plain Sight and Breaking Bad were headquartered in Albuquerque.

Fans of the show are already familiar with the beautiful, rustic log homes that have been featured in episodes. “People have been very friendly about opening up their homes and property to us,” says Stanland. One particularly stunning residence, the home of a possible new love interest for the sheriff, is old-look new construction that blends into the landscape.

McKee echoes the community support the series has received. “People have been very generous and open. The owner of the first location we used came back to do some extra work for the fun of it. We feel we’ve been accepted into the warp and woof of northern New Mexico.”

Longmire's new deputy (Katee Sackhoff) on an investigation high in New Mexico's Pecos wilderness. Photo: Warner Bros. Television Entertainment/Ursula Coyote©2012 WBEI. All rights reserved.
Longmire’s new deputy (Katee Sackhoff) on an investigation high in New Mexico’s Pecos wilderness.
Photo: Warner Bros. Television Entertainment/Ursula Coyote©2012 WBEI. All rights reserved.

The recurring location of Walt Longmire’s cabin is the ranch foreman’s home at the Valles Caldera preserve about 90 minutes from Santa Fe. The exterior of the Red Pony restaurant and bar is an abandoned office and café 15 minutes south of town; its extensive interior is a set at Garson Studios.

Another recurring location is the sheriff’s office, which is shot on the plaza in Las Vegas, N.M., about 60 miles northeast of Santa Fe. “It’s a western-look town with a square, band stand, territorial architecture,” says Stanland. “About every two episodes we went up to Las Vegas to get that look.” She notes Las Vegas, N.M., “used to have one of the strictest film ordinances in the state,” but Longmire has benefited by recent loosening of those requirements.

For an episode in which a forest ranger is found to be cultivating a marijuana grove and consorting with a Mexican drug cartel, Stanland selected Hyde State Park, between the city of Santa Fe and its ski area, for the forested locations. The Santa Fe National Forest also has seen its share of shoot days.

A ranch in Pecos was chosen for the episode featuring a burning horse barn. “One of the motivators for that location was our ability to build and burn a barn,” says Stanland. “We weren’t allowed to do that in Santa Fe County unless we used one of the three movie ranches in town. So we scouted San Miguel County.”

A pensive Sheriff Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) on location in the middle of New Mexico's Pecos wilderness for Longmire. Photo: Warner Bros. Television Entertainment/Ursula Coyote©2012 WBEI. All rights reserved.
A pensive Sheriff Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) on location in the middle of New Mexico’s Pecos wilderness for Longmire.
Photo: Warner Bros. Television Entertainment/Ursula Coyote©2012 WBEI. All rights reserved.

Of course, all necessary precautions – and then some – were taken for the pyrotechnics. “We had a crew of six or eight firemen, the fire chief, a retired chief, two engines, a brush truck, and the barn was within 100 yards of the river,” recalls McKee. “We were in a field which is irrigated in summer and in a canyon without a lot of wind,” Donahue adds.

The bear release sequence posed the biggest challenge for the crew this season, says Stanland. “We were the first to shoot on top of a mountain in the middle of the Pecos wilderness. We were at over 12,000 feet, half-an-hour from base camp. It was a real feat to make it up there with crew and equipment.”

The hard-to-get-to location was selected for its remoteness and its vistas, says McKee. “We had already shot a lot near the river and in the forest. We didn’t want to release the bear there. We wanted to be in the back of beyond,” he says, with a background “of snowcapped peaks,” adds Stanland.

McKee’s most interesting moment came when one of the show directors, the AD, DP, Stanland and himself rode in the back of a 4-wheel drive looking for a location that could act as an energy company. They clung to the edge of a giant functioning gravel pit “and saw the world drop away,” he recalls. “We looked at each other and started to say goodbye.”

“We’ll save that [location] for next season,” says Stanland wryly. Still, Donahue makes the point that “there’s nothing the writers have been able to imagine that we haven’t fulfilled.” Chimes in McKee, “and they’ve imagined some outrageous things.”

Donahue, McKee and Stanland agree that the area has gifted them with “the more you look the more you find” wealth of location possibilities. Stanland gives kudos to the fact that “the producers are willing to go outside the 30-mile studio zone, which increases costs, but allows us to get the look we need – we go past the zone every episode.”

“That’s why we’re here,” says McKee. “To get that look.”

All concur that the New Mexico Film Commission under director Nick Maniatis has been “a great resource,” as has the state’s location master Don Gray. “Don scouted for the pilot and the season and found some oil derricks and wind farms in the southern part of the state. We haven’t been able to go there yet – maybe next season,” says Stanland.

Dallas Returns to South Fork – and a Revitalized City

The cast of TNT's Dallas at Southfork. Photo: TNT/Martin Schoeller
The cast of TNT’s Dallas at Southfork.
Photo: TNT/Martin Schoeller

It would have been unthinkable for Dallas to make its long-awaited return to television and not shoot in Dallas. Already a certifiable hit on cablenet TNT, the new Dallas still makes the iconic Southfork Ranch the center of the action, although the second-generation cast of characters also takes advantage of the many attractions the thriving metro area has to offer – high-rise condos, upscale dining and shopping, the busy new Arts District.

Location manager John Patterson is primarily based in Texas with credits ranging from the series Friday Night Lights and Good Guys to the Spy Kids film franchise and the recent Tree of Life. He was charged with securing both familiar and fresh locations for season one’s 10 episodes, the bulk of which were shot from late summer 2011 to February 2012. The series has been picked up for a second season.

Patterson gives kudos to the City of Dallas and the Dallas Film Commission for their help with season one. “Locations were put together with the help of the show’s producers and by following direction supplied by our production designer, Richard Berg,” he points out.

Cliff Barnes and Sue Ellen Ewing (Ken Kercheval and Linda Gray) at a downtown location for an episode of Dallas. Photo: TNT/Zade Rosenthal
Cliff Barnes and Sue Ellen Ewing (Ken Kercheval and
Linda Gray) at a downtown location for an episode of Dallas.
Photo: TNT/Zade Rosenthal

Southfork, located in Parker, Texas, remains key to the show. “It was an existing ranch, owned by the Duntons, in the late 1970s when the series started, and since then its ownership has changed a couple of times. Now it’s a conference center and tourist attraction – it still gets a lot of traffic from fans.”

Fortunately, the location found enough holes in its conference center schedule for the production to shoot at least one day for every episode. “We didn’t shoot in a block, so we were there at least one day an episode and at satellite locations around it,” such as parks and the working Furst horse ranch, Patterson explains.

“It’s the area where I grew up. Then it was all ranch land. Now it’s suburbia with lots of subdivisions on what used to be open land.” Given the area’s development, he admits that “it’s hard to find a clean 360” degree panorama, so tricks of camera angles and horizon lines come into play. Since a state road runs by Southfork, both the state and the city of Parker were very helpful in enabling the production to “control traffic for clear vistas,” he reports.

Southfork provides the famous Ewing mansion as well as stables, cattle operations and a rifle range. Its Braddock Building has been transformed into the practical apartment set for love interest Elena Ramos. “We occasionally build a quick three-wall set, like a lawyer’s office, in the conference center,” adds Patterson. “But we rarely do mansion interiors at Southfork; they’re mostly on stage south of downtown Dallas.
Because Southfork is a conference center we have good space for extras holding and our catering operations. It’s almost made for filmmaking.”
Patterson ventured farthest afield when the production needed to find a functioning and accessible oil rig. He located a demo rig about 45 minutes southwest of Dallas that filled the bill.

He notes that, “the original show did such a good job of putting Dallas into the consciousness of America – along with the Cowboys, it changed people’s concept of Dallas.” But in the intervening years, Dallas has become “a very cosmopolitan city. It’s still a hub of high finance and oil, but the Arts District has exploded, and there are lots of growth areas.”

The fact that the city has moved forward is captured on the series, especially among the new cast members who spend a lot of time in town. The St. Ann Court office building serves as the offices of Christopher Ewing and Sue Ellen. The South Side on Lamar and The Beat condos are popular locations for the younger set. The University of Texas’s Southwestern Bio Center, “a technical incubator for up-and-coming companies,” is home to Ewing Alternative Energy.

The Nasher Sculpture Garden in the downtown Dallas arts district has become a favorite new location along with the new Winspear Opera House and the hip Bishop Arts District, whose vibe Patterson calls “right now” in Dallas. The new Omni Hotel near the convention center also has become one of the show’s “go-to locations.”

Although hospitals are “usually hard to shoot practically,” the show lucked out with the Forest Park Medical Center where scenes were scheduled in areas not in use. Southern Methodist University (SMU) also appeared in the new series.

J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) on location at Southfork for TNT's Dallas. Photo: TNT/ Bill Matlock
J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) on location at Southfork for TNT’s Dallas.
Photo: TNT/ Bill Matlock

The production recreated the real Cattle Barons Ball in the American Airlines Center, where the Mavericks and Stars play. The Dallas National Golf Club played itself as did Cowboys Stadium where the production was able to shoot on game day.

Even the flagship Neiman Marcus department store opened up its bridal and jewelry boutiques and restaurant for shooting.

“I’m not sure any show but Dallas would be able to shoot in Neiman Marcus,” says Patterson. “We have such success and name recognition built into our pitch – it’s not like approaching locations as a start-up show.

“The fact that Larry [Hagman], Patrick [Duffy] and Linda [Grey] are back has made Dallas a much more substantial show,” he notes. “It’s not a reboot, but a moving forward of the story.”

Royal Pains Shows Off New York’s Affluent Waterfront

The DeSeversky Center of Long Island University, former summer home of a member of the Phipps family, serves as a Great Gatsby-style party location for an episode of Royal Pains. Photo: David Giesbrecht/USA
The DeSeversky Center of Long Island University, former summer home of a member of the Phipps family, serves as a Great Gatsby-style party location for an episode of Royal Pains.
Photo: David Giesbrecht/USA

Now in it’s fourth season on USA Network, Royal Pains, with its “concierge doctor” plot line, showcases a New York many viewers have only heard about in the society columns, or read about in coffee-table books. Set in the tony Hamptons beach communities on the easternmost point of Long Island, the bulk of the series is shot a little closer to Manhattan within the 30-mile IATSE union travel zone. But it still uses deep Nassau and western Suffolk County locations on Long Island as Hamptons’ stand-ins; interiors are shot on Brooklyn’s Broadway Stages.

Michael Fucci, location manager for Royal Pains since the pilot, has been tasked with finding posh homes for the rich and famous patients of Dr. Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein) episode after episode. On the South Shore, or Atlantic Ocean side, of Long Island, “once you’re past Point Lookout you’re at Jones Beach [State Park] then Fire Island, which is past the IA [union] zone,” he explains. “There are few oceanfront homes within the zone. So the North Shore [which fronts onto Long Island Sound separating the island from Connecticut] has become our solution.”

But the North Shore has a slightly higher elevation than the South Shore; its beaches are rockier and there aren’t as many waves. “So we try to be on the South Shore at least a day to get the ocean, some exteriors and homes,” says Fucci. “But most of the homes we use are in the affluent areas of the North Shore.” In fact, in one area of waterfront homes with lots of acreage, “there isn’t one house on that road that we haven’t used.”
How hard is it to get wealthy New Yorkers to turn over their beautiful residences to television production? “It was more difficult the first and second seasons,” he recalls. “But it really is a small world. So many homes we use have been referred to us by other homeowners, and now people want to participate.”

On location at Cold Spring Country Club, Huntington, Long Island for an episode of Royal Pains. Photo: David Giesbrecht/USA
On location at Cold Spring Country Club, Huntington, Long Island for an episode of Royal Pains.
Photo: David Giesbrecht/USA

He prides himself on the care the production takes working in these 10,000-15,000-square-foot homes. “In four seasons we’ve only had to re-do one hardwood floor,” he announces. “When you get people to say, ‘come back anytime’ we know we did a good job.”

Even if homeowners want to show off their residences they don’t want to be besieged by a huge production entourage. “We’re a pretty large company for cable,” says Fucci, “so we try to find places to use as base camps for 100 crew, cameras and 15 support vehicles then truck stuff in to the homes. There aren’t too many places that can act as base camps, so we tend to revisit about half-a-dozen of them.”

Fucci notes that in the Hamptons, which the show visits several times a season, most homes tend to be summer residences only in use for 10-12 weeks annually. “So people are reluctant to share their homes if they have parties and events planned. We’re taking a week out of their schedules.” On the North Shore, on the other hand, people tend to be year-round residents.

The series has a long production schedule, often running from the end of February to the beginning of October, so Fucci also has to combat the elements. To cope with a blustery seasonal start, the show has decamped to Puerto Rico – which stood in for Cuba – and Georgia, which doubled for the Hamptons, in recent years. In the fall when foliage starts to change color, cameras try to shoot evergreens or they turn to color correction in post to re-green the leaves.

Fucci also finds himself “opening [residential swimming] pools early at the beginning of the season and reopening them at the end of the season – we spend a lot of money with pool companies.”

About a dozen locations recur in the show. One of the most familiar is the palatial Shadow Pond home of Boris (Campbell Scott), the rich German who set Hank’s doctor-for-hire career in motion. Fucci selected Oheka Castle in Huntington, built as a summer home and once holder of the title of second-largest privately-owned home in the country, as the residence. Oheka Castle functions as a hotel and conference center today.

On location at a private residence on Long Island's North Shore for an episode of Royal Pains. Photo: David Giesbrecht/USA
On location at a private residence on Long Island’s North Shore for an episode of Royal Pains.
Photo: David Giesbrecht/USA

One Royal Pains script called for a tough find: an oceanfront house at the foot of a private airport runway. With only a handful of small airports to choose from, Fucci wondered if the script would have to rewrite the location or rely on the magic of VFX. Then he discovered tiny Mattituck Airport on the North Fork of Long Island. “It has a Cape Cod house picturesquely situated on the bay with a cliff and a runway about a 100 yards east,” he reports. “It was as if the writers had written the script for this location.” The only downside: “Now the writers feel there’s nothing they can’t write into scripts that we can’t find.”

Fucci and his location team kept tabs on a particular South Shore property that was under construction the last few years. In an area populated by tiny bungalows on small lots, one homeowner acquired four lots, knocked down the existing house and built a minimalist summer home in a tapered shape. Its main floor features a 35×20-foot glass wall overlooking the ocean. At the touch of a button it lifts and retracts into the ceiling. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Fucci. “We used it for last year’s season finale.”

Fucci, who served up locations for Law & Order for a number of seasons and has worked on many features, has nothing but praise for his colleagues on Royal Pains. They include his longtime location scouts Shannon Dennard and Brendan Kehoe, production designer Ray Kluga, leadman set dresser Chris Vogt, transportation head Steve Hammond and “the best grip, electric and camera departments.”

He’s also grateful for help from “our friends at Jones Beach State Park who make things so easy” and at the New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and TV Development, which also furnishes assistance.

Capturing the Magic of Miami in 1959

The gardens of a private residence in Miami Beach in an episode of Magic City. Photo: Craig Blankenhorn©2011 Starz Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
The gardens of a private residence in Miami Beach in an episode of Magic City.
Photo: Craig Blankenhorn©2011 Starz Entertainment, LLC.
All rights reserved.

Miami was indeed a Magic City in 1959 – the playground of the Kennedys and their ilk, a glittering vacation spot graced by grand hotels, an entertainment mecca where all the top acts performed. It also had a seamy underside of mobsters and money, and the Cuban Revolution loomed less than 100 miles away.

Recreating the Miami of the era could have been a tall order for the new Starz cable series, Magic City, but location manager Maria K. Chavez has been aided by widespread preservation efforts, which have saved much of the area’s classic architecture.

“Quite a few examples of the Miami Modern (MiMo) architecture have been preserved – the Fontainebleau [Miami Beach Hotel], the Deauville [Beach Resort Hotel], the Bacardi Building with its wonderful suspended stairs,” she says. “It was the Golden Age of Miami Beach.”
Magic City tells the story of Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), owner of the glamorous fictional Miramar Playa Hotel. Eight episodes aired in season one; the show returns in September for a 10-episode second season. Although a good deal of the Miramar Playa is a sumptuous set by production designer Carlos Barbosa in the old Bertram Shipyards, ballroom interiors and the pool are shot at the Deauville, which is a real time capsule according to Chavez.

Magic City shot at Jerry's Deli when it needed an eatery reminiscent of the famous and now defunct Wolfie's. Photo: Justina Mintz©2011 Starz Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
Magic City shot at Jerry’s Deli when it needed an eatery reminiscent of the famous and now defunct Wolfie’s.
Photo: Justina Mintz©2011 Starz Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

“Its skin and bones are intact from the ‘50s. It has original chandeliers, and the barbershop in the downstairs arcade has the old chairs that all the stars who played the hotel sat in to get haircuts.” The National Hotel, which also has retained its Golden Age look, is another find along with the Waterside Inn, a MiMo-style motel.

Chavez, who began her career on the iconic Miami Vice, discovered private homes to shoot in on Pine Tree Drive, the “Mansion Row” of the time, which is graced with classic Mediterranean-style estates. Other areas have furnished 1950’s ranch houses and tract homes with carports, although “it’s been a challenge finding jalousie windows,” she notes. “We have Spanish architecture in The Gables, 50s’ homes in Miami Springs, MiMo apartment buildings in Bal Harbour and Key West-style homes on Little River. We try to find blocks of houses for running shots and add period cars and road signs. Sometimes we want a neighborhood where you can look 360 degrees and see all the elements.”

Recreating downtown Miami’s Saks Fifth Avenue of the period was a challenge until Chavez found the Alfred Dupont Building, the city’s first air-conditioned building in the ‘30s. “We created the store upstairs – it even had those old escalators.”

Sweet rides, circa 1959, outside the garages of a private residence in Miami Beach for Magic City. Photo: Craig Blankenhorn©2011 Starz Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
Sweet rides, circa 1959, outside the garages of a private residence in Miami Beach for Magic City.
Photo: Craig Blankenhorn©2011 Starz Entertainment, LLC.
All rights reserved.

In her quest to find locations for Magic City, Chavez has had invaluable input from show creator, writer and executive producer Mitch Glazer, a Miami native who once worked as a cabana boy at a Miami Beach hotel. He soaked up the stories of the area as a kid and has been instrumental in pointing Chavez to likely locations. He’s even written scripts for existing locations, for example casting favorite lunch spot Jerry’s Deli in the role once occupied by the famed, and now defunct, Wolfie’s.

One restaurant that hasn’t vanished is Fort Lauderdale’s Mai-Kai, a Polynesian classic with waterfalls in the windows. “It’s still there looking exactly as it did back in the day,” says Chavez. “It still has that tiki-bar look.”

It proved impossible, however, to find a location in Miami’s African-American Overtown area that could serve as the celebrated Night Beat Club in the St. John’s Hotel. “All the big jazz singers played there,” Chavez recalls. “But everything’s gone – [highway] 395 went right through it.” So she “cheated” by using the Magnum Lounge in the National Hotel instead.

Magic City on location on Ocean Drive's Lummus Park in Miami Beach with period vehicles lining the street. Photo: Craig Blankenhorn©2011 Starz Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
Magic City on location on Ocean Drive’s Lummus Park in Miami Beach with period vehicles lining the street.
Photo: Craig Blankenhorn©2011 Starz Entertainment, LLC.
All rights reserved.

The shoreline of Key Biscayne doubled as Cuba in an episode, and season two may show more “Cuban” locales. “We found an amazing location, a former Cuban embassy in Miami that we used as a dance studio,” says Chavez. “It had those Cuban tiles, and you felt as if you were there.”

She’s already stockpiling locations to use in future episodes. “We haven’t shot in the Raleigh Hotel yet – that’s been renovated with the integrity of the period in mind and still has its terrazzo floors, for example. The Eden Roc has a great lobby and ballrooms, and there’s the Biltmore, which dates from the 1920s.” She also uncovered a refurbished World War II-era hangar with vintage aircraft, including an old Eastern Airlines plane.
“The show gives us an opportunity to showcase Miami’s visual history, which is very elegant and beautiful,” Chavez points out. “We see these locations as jewels – they have great production value.”

She credits the Miami-Dade County Film & Entertainment Office for public relations support and help with permits. The city of Miami Beach and the Department of Transportation also get kudos. “The city has been amazing; we work closely for permitting, which is pretty rigorous because it’s such a dense area, and we require street closures and picture cars on the street. Miami has been very excited about Magic City, and the public has been very supportive of it.”


October 27, 2012