Let’s play a game. Name a movie made in the United States. Go ahead name one. The odds that the movie you just named was filmed in California is one in three. And of those movies shot in California, two-thirds are shot in and around Hollywood, according to an August 2005 study by the California Film Commission.
Now, name a country. How about Bulgaria? Or Costa Rica? The film industry of California brings in an estimated $34 billion dollars a year into the California economy (at least as of 2002, according to the L.A. County Economic Development Corp.) which is more than the GDP of 100 countries, according to the IMF, including those of Bulgaria and Costa Rica. In fact, it's as much money as the bottom 38 countries combined.
So to say California produces a lot of film would be to say that Iowa grows a lot of corn. The state is large and the landscape assorted with deserts, mountains, forests and an ocean all within close proximity to Hollywood. This, and reliable sunshine, makes it an ideal location for the center of the film industry.
If southern California is your thing, and for many people it is, you might want to check out these movies to get a feel for the major cities on the West Coast: For San Diego, though it may not stand up as an all-time classic, Anchorman, Will Ferrell’s comedy, was shot all around the city. For Los Angeles on film: LA Confidential or Mulholland Drive will give you an idea of the vastness of the city sprawl.
Driving north of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, you’ll come to Santa Ynez Valley. This area has experienced a tourist boom in the years following the success of Sideways, the story of two middle-aged men on a road trip through one of the lesser-known wine regions in California.
But I would like to drive you up the coast from Tinseltown to the City by the Bay where I was lucky enough to stay for a few months during my college years.
To get to San Francisco from southern California, you can take one of two routes. You can head up 101 past dried-up farms and dull yellow fields of grass undulating by the windshield like waves past a boat, or you can cross off one of the items off your life’s to-do list and drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. And if you’re like my mother, who tends to wig out at curvy roads around steep cliffs, you’ll want to make sure you’re going north on this road where you’ll have the extra lane between you and the edge.
While heading up the PCH, I recommend a stop over in San Simeon, a tiny, sleepy town with one tourist attraction: Hearst Castle. Before you go, watch Citizen Kane,
one of the top rated U.S. movies of all time. The film is loosely based
on the life of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, and the
Hearst Castle took over 20 years to build, and was completed in 1947.
While the Orson Welles’ classic wasn't shot at Hearst Castle, both the
movie and the Castle are worth your time. Take a tour of the castle and (shameless plug) check out the National Geographic film, Building the Dream, which is part of the exhibit.
On we go to Frisco. From the palm trees around the Embarcadero to Fishermen’s Wharf, from Alcatraz Island to the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is full of iconoclastic views with loads of history. Two classic movies show San Fran in detail: Vertigo, by Alfred Hitchcock and The Conversation by Francis Ford Coppola.
In Hitchcock’s thriller, Jimmy Stewart is a detective following a friend’s wife around town. He ends up near Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as the Mission Dolores at 16th St. and Dolores. In Coppola’s The Conversation,
Gene Hackman is a private eye using all the high tech audio gear of the
time to spy on a couple in Union Square. The film captures streets all
around the city, including Embarcadero, Geary, Stockton, Van Ness,
Powell and Pierce among others in the Downtown area north of Market St. and the Financial District (both on the eastern side of the city). The movie is unique in that it hardly ever shows the distinctive landmarks of SF (Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, Transamerica Pyramid or Alcatraz), instead concentrating on the urban landscape of skyscrapers and apartment buildings.
These two movies will give you an intimate view of one of America’s great cities, one full of history and intrigue, steep roads and beautiful vistas (if and when the fog lifts).
Photos: The Pacific Coast Highway, above; Hearst Castle, below left The Golden Gate Bridge, below right. By John Ur.