Hazards of filming in cities all too real, location managers say

The closure of the Apple TV+ and Endeavor Content miniseries Lady in the Lake last week following reports that a crew member had been threatened stunned officials in Baltimore, a movie-friendly hub that has for years hosted acclaimed crime drama The Wire ” was filmed .

The Baltimore Police Department this week retracted its first report of an on-set violent threat, but arrested a street vendor who officials said was upset that he had not been compensated by the production for lost business over drug charges.

Nonetheless, the halt to production was a reminder of the potential dangers crews can face when filming in neighborhoods where they may not always be welcome by local residents and business owners.

“When you’re in some kind of rough area, it can be difficult,” said Chris Baugh, site manager for 30 years. “I’m trying to stay sane.”

Earlier this summer, threats or acts of violence disrupted filming in cities across the country, which Baugh and other location managers attribute in part to rising crime and poverty amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think more areas [I’ve seen] slide into poverty, and with it the desperation grows,” said Baugh, whose credits include the Oscar-winning film Argo. “And when you’re desperate and then you’re right next to movie stars and wealth, you become a target.”

In July, a crew member of the television series Law & Order: Organized Crime was shot dead in Brooklyn, New York. Details were unclear at the time, with a colleague saying the man was involved in hanging flyers, cones and other parking trucks for the production, according to the New York Post.

In another incident in Chicago last month, an incendiary device was thrown at a set of FX Networks Revival’s Justified. The device did not explode and no one was injured.

That comes just three weeks after two drivers involved in a shootout slammed into barricades set up near Douglass Park in Chicago during filming of Justified: City Primeval. None of the crew members who took cover as the gunners drove onto the set were injured.

Baugh has had his fair share of close shaves on the job and stressed the need to be smart by spreading the word about potentially dangerous encounters.

When he first got into the industry in the early 1990s, Baugh was on a Boyle Heights street corner taking photos and looking for murals around Mariachi Plaza for the PBS children’s show Reading Rainbow. He recalled putting down his camera and finding himself surrounded by gang members. He said he tried to defuse the situation by making excuses.

“Once they understood that I was scouting and just taking pictures, they thought it was funny and wanted to be part of it,” Baugh said.

He recalled a more recent incident while working as location manager on the Olivia Wilde film Don’t Worry Darling on 2020 election night. Towards the end of that day, the crew was forced to abruptly leave the filming location near the Oviatt building in downtown LA after police warned of an unruly crowd of protesters just blocks away.

“There wasn’t much damage, but the potential for something really serious was there,” he recalled.

LA-based location manager Mike Fantasia, who has worked on films for Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, said the increase in attacks on film sets is making his job more difficult.

“You really have to think about where you’re filming,” Fantasia said. “I think those who are being marginalized are pissed off, they’re really upset. They look at people with $300,000 cameras, with amazing catering outfits, and they look at the time and money that we put into the preparation and filming, the locations and the people in expensive cars pull up and they’re like, ‘Fuck that. I’ll get a piece of that.’”

Some scouts, who must find suitable filming locations and negotiate with property owners to get their filming permits, have had fatal encounters, Baugh noted.

In 2017, location scout Edward French was found with a gunshot wound near his vehicle at Twin Peaks overlook in San Francisco. French was approached by a young man and woman before he was shot and his camera stolen, CBS News quoted police reports as saying. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

In the same year, Mexican location scout Carlos Muñoz Portal was reportedly shot dead several times in a remote area in the central part of the country while searching for Season 4 of the Netflix hit series Narcos.

While filming can bring jobs and business to one place, not all communities welcome productions that they say cause too much disruption.

Last month, residents of Angelino Heights protested the filming of Fast X, the 10th installment in the car heist franchise they say encourages street racing and illegal takeovers.

Some location managers have found ways to film in some of the most dangerous parts of town for crime dramas or movies.

When working in gang-heavy areas, Training Day and Southland location manager Michael Haro uses off-duty police to create a perimeter around the set and often seeks the help of inactive gang members through rehabilitation programs such as Homeboy Industries, to help admit their congregations. They will be offered roles as technical consultants for the productions, he said.

“The neighborhood sees us, we hire their people, they can get jobs and be legal for the time we’re there,” Haro said. “It also gives us the opportunity to do that [show] the community, the kids, who see nothing but a lot of neighborhood violence, something new.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2022-09-01/film-crews-face-new-challenges-in-cities Hazards of filming in cities all too real, location managers say

Sarah Ridley

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