Let me explain. When an industry icon or local landmark falls into decay through either neglect or the passing of time or simply by becoming obsolete, film crews always seem to be the last inhabitants, often risking their own personal safety to extract what few cultural nutrients remain before the location is returned to the soil.
In the animal world, the scavengers that hasten the process of decomposition care not for the previous life of their host or how it met its demise, whether through natural causes or hubris; the bacteria are merely carrying out their encoded orders to breakdown once living material into simpler components.
So too do the film crews carry out their Producer’s orders, and dutifully show up at a location at the appointed call time, guided by yellow signs posted on light poles that point the way to the parking lot and set. But unlike our fungi counterparts, we are often painfully aware of the previous life of where we are shooting for that day, and what impact it had on our lives and our history.
The mighty Ambassador Hotel, for example, at once famous and infamous, shone brightly in the hot spot of the world’s searchlights. Its Cocoanut Grove night club was a hangout for the Rat Pack who continued their partying in the posh bungalows. It was the place to be. But not long after the assassination of Robert Kennedy in the pantry area of the kitchen, it fell into such a state of disrepair over time that it was deemed uninhabitable by humans.
But perfectly fine for film crews.
So we shot and shot in the condemned hotel, ignoring the dangers, lovingly photographing the old beauty from every angle, until the last memories of the Grande dame faded into the background of Charlie’s Angels 2, and the building was eventually demolished.
We can’t forget the once powerful Firestone Plant. At one point during our automotive boom, it was the example of American might, and employed (and I’m pretty sure about this number) a gazillion Angelinos.
But the winds of corporate change swept through Southgate and rendered the old plant a virtual toxic waste dump that was off limits to people, avoided even by rodents, but declared totally safe for film crews. So we shot relentlessly on the potential Superfund Site, gradually reducing the Plant’s cultural impact to the background of Buckaroo Bonzai and countless music videos and beer commercials.
In what is perhaps a harbinger of doom, there are film production trucks stacked up in the parking lot across the street from the downtown Los Angeles Times Building on a regular basis. Is this to be the fate of a place where heads of state stopped first to grip-and-grin with powerful and influential editors; where a thousand Jimmy Olsens ran from a hundred bellowing Perry Whites in an attempt to uncover that which had been hidden from public view by corrupt politicians, and do it before the day’s deadline?
Once the film crews get a hold of it, I fear that no amount of bubble wrap or layout board can protect the once dominant L.A. Times building from sliding down its path into the background of Argo II or Who Wants To Be A Reality Show Millionaire’s Administrative Assistant, before eventually disappearing into virtual memory.
Film crews are an indicator of what is to come, pulling the last bits of life out of a once-cherished location, recycling what has become unnecessary until there is nothing left to use.
A warning then is issued to all CEO’s: when you see those mysterious yellow signs attached to light poles out front of your building that say “Crew Parking,” and they point to your building–
Best brush off that resume.