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How filmmaking left, and is now coming back to, California’s Central and South Coasts

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MARC WANAMAKER
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BISON ARCHIVES
During the Golden Age of Hollywood so much filming happened on California’s Central and South Coasts. Studios traveled just beyond Hollywood to get the feeling of the great outdoors. Including for the 1930s film Frankenstein (Universal) shot in the Santa Monica Mountains at Malibou Lake.

The story comes from KCLU’s podcast The One Oh One. You can listen to the full episode here.

When you go on the hunt for filming locations in our region, you’ll need someone like Harry Medved.

“I grew up in Southern California watching them filming movies in the streets.”

He’s like a ‘walking-tour-guiding-encyclopedia’ of movies filmed on location in California. He’s the coauthor of the moviegoers guide for the great outdoors called Hollywood Escapes.

“[I] went to high school that was used as a movie location frequently, Palisades High School, that appeared in the movie Carrie. It even played a prison in the movie The Slams. In high school I was working as a ticket taker and usher at the Village Theater in Westwood. And it was really fun to see the movie stars coming in for the premieres,” said Medved. “So I feel that back in the day when I was a kid, everything was shot here.”

Saying Medved is passionate about movies would perhaps be an understatement. He has an incredible knowledge of the movies and TV filmed in and around the Central and South Coasts.

“One of the reasons why movie makers came to Southern California in the first place is because of our geographic diversity – because we've got everything you could want, whether it's beaches, deserts, mountains, pretty much everything except for maybe a tundra. It's the diversity that drew filmmakers here and in Ventura County in particular,” said Medved.

And it helped that it's so close to LA.

“People like getting away from Hollywood and they feel like, ‘Wow, we're really kind of going on location, but we can still sleep in our own beds’,” said Medved.

So with all this knowledge it makes sense that he be our tour guide.

Let the tour begin… first stop: Corriganville, Simi Valley

Corriganville Park is located on the eastern side of Simi Valley bordering Highway 118. The park is a mix of wide open space with native shrubs, and hills with large rocky outcrops.

Today it’s managed by the city’s recreation and parks district. But back during what many call the golden age of Hollywood – around the 1930s – the land was purchased by a very interesting man.

“There was an actor named Ray “Crash” Corrigan,” said Medved.

Corrigan’s original claim to fame in film was that he owned a gorilla suit that he’d be hired to wear in so-called jungle moves like Tarzan.

“And it was a really cheesy looking suit. It was pretty silly. So eventually you had to hang it up. And he started working as a stuntman, and he worked in lots of westerns, and he became one of The Three Musketeers in westerns with John Wayne,” said Medved.

Corrigan owned, ran and lived on this ranch that he leased out to movie-makers.

“The most famous film that was shot there was Fort Apache with John Wayne and Victor McLaglen, directed by John Ford, a classic film that was ahead of its time about the corruption of the Indian Bureau of Affairs with the U.S. government and how the Native Americans were mistreated in this country,” said Medved.

On the day I visited that ranch – now known as Corriganville – I met with Nikki Davy.

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Michelle Loxton
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KCLU
Nikki Davy handles all the current film permits for Corriganville which is owned by the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District.

“At one time there was a full city out here that had churches, it had bars, it had hotels, it had a main street,” said Davy.

Davy handles all the current film permits for Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District.

“And unlike other Hollywood sets, his sets were actually fully built. So they weren't just facades. He had full plumbing in there. People could stay in there overnight,” said Davy.

She says during the days of Ray “Crash” Corrigan there was a working train and track and even a lagoon.

“That's where some of the first underwater scenes were ever filmed in the world. He created a little cement structure underneath and put glass in there and they had a film camera in there and they used to be able to film. And that's where Johnny Weissmuller would jump off in those shows,” said Davy.

Films like the iconic Tarzan series.

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Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District
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What is left of the lagoon and cement structure that filmmakers would sit inside to shoot underwater scenes at Corriganville, Simi Valley in the 1930s and 1940s.

So many famous movie stars made so many of the films we hold dear, at Corriganville.

“We had Shirley Temple here, we had Lassie here, and we've had all this great history that was happening here at Corriganville,” said Davy. “Sherwood Forest is in the back. That's where Errol Flynn ran around pretending it was good old jolly England at one point when he did some of his movies here. Bud Abbott and Costello have filmed here. Lucille Ball has filmed here.”

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Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District
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In the 1930s, Corriganville stood in for Sherwood Forest in the film The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn. Because Corriganville is a public park today, you can visit Sherwood Forest.

But, the era of the Ray “Crash” Corrigan movie-making-ranch didn’t last. Corrigan went through a divorce and he had to sell the land in the late 1960s. There was also a fire that swept through the ranch destroying 90% of the sets.

Then, it had different owners over the years and shrunk in size as developers bought parcels of it. It sat empty for a while until it was purchased by the Simi Valley park district in the 1980s.

I’ll get to what’s happening at Corriganville today – later in this article – but our historic movie-making tour bus is about to leave…

Next stop: Point Dume, Malibu

To get to Point Dume in Malibu we must leave Corriganville in its inland valley and head south for the ocean. We pass through the hills of the Santa Monica Mountains and weave through the tunnels carved out of those mountains.

Our tour guide Harry Medved says it’s hard to find a place in these mountains that hasn’t been filmed.

“The tunnels there have appeared in movies like Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty, and that's where he has a fatal crash while he's on his bike and goes to heaven right in tunnel number three, I believe,” said Medved. “Deep Impact is a movie about a meteor striking earth with Morgan Freeman as president of the United States. That film has a whole Noah's Ark scene where they're gathering like the last humans getting ready for this meteor. They're all gathering right down by the bottom of Kanan, Dume Road.”

When we make it out of the mountains and tunnels and reach the beach at Point Dume you’re met with even more movie making history.

“There are very few places in Los Angeles County where you can walk along the sand and see so much film history,” said Medved. “This is definitely one of the most frequently filmed beaches.”

Iron Man,The Big Lebowski and Planet of the Apes. If you’ve watched that last 1968 film you’ll immediately recognize the location with the giant rock face right on the beach which played host to the twist ending of the film.

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Michelle Loxton
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KCLU
Harry Medved, author of The Moviegoers guide to exploring Southern California’s great outdoors: Hollywood Escapes, pictured here at Point Dume next to the iconic monolithic rock that’s used in the twist ending of the 1968 film Planet of the Apes.

“It has this unbeatable combination of this monolithic rock that seems to be rising out of the middle of the ocean, along with a little jumble of rocks right next to it, along with the sloping sands of the beach that are just so unmistakable,” said Medved. “It's supposed to be what happens to Manhattan at the very end of, spoiler alert, Planet of the Apes, where you see the Statue of Liberty with the torch and the head sticking out of the sand.”

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MARC WANAMAKER
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BISON ARCHIVES
A very short distance for Point Dume in Malibu is Leo Carrillo State Beach. Pictured is the filming of the 1940s picture Slave Girl (Universal). The location also appeared in the opening sequences of Grease; serves as the seaside hangout in The Karate Kid; and the black sand beach in Letters from Iwo Jima

And today? Well as I hinted at earlier… we’ll get to that later in the article. But we have one more stop on our film set tour.

Final stop: Paramount Ranch

We’re heading back into the Santa Monica Mountains to visit what tour guide Harry calls the last of the great Hollywood ranches.

“So back in the golden age of Hollywood, you could shoot movies on the soundstage. They had their own little backlots there. But, if you really wanted a sense of the great outdoors, you had to go out to the ranches,” said Medved.

And that is how we got Paramount Ranch. The big studio found the perfect outdoor location just off of Kanan Road not far from Agoura Hills.

“The scenery here is so unusual at Paramount Ranch and in the Santa Monica Mountains, in that it's very versatile. There's no one distinguishing landmark here except maybe Sugarloaf Peak, but otherwise it's a wide open canvas for the filmmakers to just put their sets down,” said Medved.

Our tour guide says it’s played everything except itself.

We make our way to one of the sets still standing today. It’s where we find Mike Malone.

“Welcome to the train station without the train,” said Malone.

Malone is a retired National Park Service ranger – also a passionate film buff – who used to give tours about the ranch’s film history. The National Park Service bought Paramount Ranch in 1980.

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Michelle Loxton
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KCLU
Mike Malone, a retired National Park Service Ranger and passionate film historian about all things shot at Paramount Ranch, is pictured at the ticketing booth used in the 1990s TV series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. This and one other set are the only two left standing today.

Creaky floorboards squeak under our feet as he takes me around the train station built for the TV series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman with Jane Seymour. He’s stepped inside the little ticketing booth for a reenactment from the series.

“Next train to LA will be arriving in 20 minutes. Come get your tickets. Step right up,” proclaimed Malone.

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Mike Malone Collection
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Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman filmed at Paramount Ranch in the 1990s. Because the ranch is part of the National Park Service the public was able to visit and watch filming taking place.

Malone says having that show filming there in the 1990s was really great for the park service. It gave people a reason to visit.

“They were here day in and day out, Monday through Friday, essentially. And in the permit world, all filming has to agree to allow the public to still come in here,” said Malone.

Beyond Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, other TV shows were filmed here as well – CSI: Las Vegas, the X-Files and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

The land the park service owns today is only a parcel of the original Paramount Ranch which Malone calculates opened in 1927 as one of the earliest Hollywood movie ranches.

Malone has done deep research with trips to the Motion Picture Academy library and other archives. He watches old movies in search of specific landmarks to document all that has been filmed here.

He’s brought with him a folder filled with photographs he’s collected. He points to a map going back to the 1930s.

“A drawing, if you will, what kind of aerial, you know, drawing or you're looking down. And various sets across the ranch were here,” said Malone.

There were so many sets – there was the western town.

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Mike Malone Collections
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Many westerns were shot at Paramount Ranch during the Golden Age of Hollywood. During that time it was a working ranch with corrals, horses, wells and more.

“Right there out in front of us, all these buildings stood at one time. There was probably equal number of structures, as there were to corrals,” said Malone. “Because westerns were a very big thing in those early years of Hollywood.”

And it wasn’t just westerns…

“This ranch has stood in for 13th century China – 1930s movie called The Adventures of Marco Polo with Gary Cooper. It's been 16th century Salem, Massachusetts, for a movie called Maid of Salem about those witch hunt trials back in that period. And the Hacienda set could be used for any Spanish speaking country and even early California,” said Malone.

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MARC WANAMAKER
/
BISON ARCHIVES
The Trumpet Blows was filmed at Paramount Ranch in the 1930s. The sets and corrals stood in for Mexico. Sugarloaf Peak can be seen in the background. The barn pictured was remodeled as a soundstage during the filming of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman in the 1990s. 

More than 130 films were made during the historic Paramount era as it is called – between 1927 and 1943. With the start of World War II though, Paramount sold the ranch, Malone says.

“It was a succession of owners here. Paramount Ranch was always part of the title,” said Malone.

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Mike Malone Collection
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Paramount Ranch stood in for 16th century Salem, Massachusetts for the film Maid of Salem.

When The National Park Service purchased the ranch in 1980, they started to revive filming. There’s a pretty famous series, still running on HBO today, that was filmed on the only other set still standing at Paramount Ranch today.

Mike takes me over to a large church-like structure.

“The very popular HBO show Westworld came here in 2016, I believe it was the summer,” said Malone.

Westworld filmed their pilot season here – the church scene with Dolores at the end of that season is pretty epic.

“You can catch the echo in here. Hello. Hello. Hello. And it looks just like an old church from the west, if you will. Except there's no furniture in here,” said Malone.

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Kerry Perkins
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Mike Malone Collection
The HBO series Westworld built this church for their pilot season – which they shot in part at Paramount Ranch. The 2018 Woolsey Fire destroyed all but two sets at the iconic movie making ranch.

The railway station and church sets are the only ones left standing at Paramount Ranch.

Destruction of Paramount Ranch

“Sadly the Woolsey fire completely destroyed the town. And it was just precipitated by embers coming across the freeway, landing in the creek bed there where they're big brush piles from rushing waters. It broke a lot of branches off,” said Malone pointing to a bridge and creek in the distance.

“When they got into those old piles of brush, then that ignited like little bonfires,” added Malone.

Ana Beatriz Cholo was also at Paramount Ranch the day I visited. She recalls when the Woolsey Fire came through. The massive blaze burned almost 100,000 acres and forced more than a quarter of a million people to evacuate their homes, destroying over 1,500 structures.

“The morning of November 9th, 2018, it came through here. And, there wasn't really much, I believe, that could be done. The winds were so strong and the fire was just strong. And the buildings, these were old historic structures, many of them. And there wasn't any real fire safety measures that’d been taken when these buildings were built in the 1920s,” said Cholo. “And so it destroyed these buildings and it continued on its path to the ocean. And it created a lot of havoc.”

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Michelle Loxton
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KCLU
What Paramount Ranch looks like today after burned structures and debris has been removed after the Woolsey Fire swept through the region in November 2018.

Cholo is the Public Affairs Officer for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Paramount Ranch is the only part of the National Park Service system that’s dedicated to American film making.

Cholo wants to bring the glory of filming back to this ranch.

“The National Park Service and our partner, the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, that's our friends group, we're committed to rebuilding the Paramount Ranch,” said Cholo. “We want to reestablish the ranch as a place for making movies. To basically rebuild four structures that will be built in the historic footprint of the buildings that were burned. And they'll be fire safe, adaptable and ever changing.”

They hope to break ground early next year and hopefully be completed by 2024.

Larger push to revitalize local filmmaking

The rebuilding of Paramount Ranch is part of a larger effort to revitalize filming in our region. We’ve learned that there was a boom in filming from the 1920s up until around the 1980s.

“Starting in the eighties, really, when other states had great tax incentives, filming started leaving,” said Harry Medved. “And we've taken our film history for granted. Any other city would put up a plaque everywhere the movie was shot. And in Southern California it's just another movie. We were kind of jaded. We think like, ‘Who cares? They shoot here all the time.’ Well, guess what happened? They don’t shoot here all the time anymore.”

Often the decision on where to make a movie or film comes down to the accountants. California became too expensive. Filming moved to places like Canada and the state of Georgia – how many films have you seen with that Georgia peach at the end of the TV and film credits?

“It's one of the primary decision-makers for individuals deciding where they are going to shoot their production is whether or not they will be able to receive tax credits,” said Colleen Bell, the Executive Director of the California Film Commission.

Bell says it became fairly obvious California was losing production and so the commission has started to really focus on their own tax incentive program.

“They were really seeking these lucrative tax credits. But we have continued increasing and improving our tax credit program here,” said Bell.

According to the California Film Commission, from 2015 to 2020 the Tax Credit Program created almost $22 billion in economic output, supporting more than 110,000 total jobs.

The program was expanded further last year.

The commission’s reports even boast recent examples of series convinced to relocate to California for their next season.

Bell says filmmakers want to stay close by, if they can.

“California has some of the most talented crews. Our equipment, our technology, our soundstages. So sometimes we can't compete dollar for dollar with other states and locations abroad. But at the same time, I think our value is always there,” said Bell.

What’s filming today?

And now here’s the part I’ve been promising… This renewed push has resulted in a lot of recent productions.

In Simi Valley’s Corriganville, our first stop on the tour, let’s run through the list:

There’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood that was shot there, by Quentin Tarantino.

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Rancho Simi Recreation & Parks District
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One of the sets for the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood movie (2019) which was shot in Corriganville, Simi Valley.

Everything Everywhere All at Once with Michelle Yoeh – this year’s movie getting lots of Oscar buzz – that was filmed there.

In wider film-friendly Simi Valley there’s the recent Netflix vampire flick with Jamie Foxx called Day Shift that has scenes there.

Let’s bring our movie insider Harry Medved back for more scoops.

Babylon – Damien Chazelle's follow up to La La Land has a scene with Brad Pitt at the Hummingbird Ranch in Simi Valley. So Ventura County is really making a comeback at the movies this year,” said Medved.

In Point Dume in Malibu, Medved says Steven Speilberg came to the iconic beach recently to shoot his semi-autobiographical film, The Fabelmans, which is out this month.

The film commission told me that one of our local highways – Highway 1 in Ventura county – has become a popular spot to shoot car commercials.

And it all matters for the state and local economies. A recent study found that for every dollar spent on film production it generates $24 in local economic activity.

For example, the movie Sideways put pinot noir from Santa Ynez on the map.

“So it's a good time for filming. Filming is coming back to California.”

“For years people have been flocking to New Zealand to see where Lord of the Rings was shot, in England for the Harry Potter, Hogwarts sets. And people didn't really know what to see in California,” said Medved. “They come here and they take the Universal Studios tour. Maybe they walk on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and look at the Chinese Theatre, and that's it. It's like, ‘Really? Is that all there is?’ Thank goodness more and more people are realizing that there are great California filming locations right underneath their noses that they can go inspect.”

So perhaps we are ushering in another golden era of filming on California’s Central and South Coast and beyond?

“It's exciting to talk to location managers and see the creative ways they're getting people to shoot in California. They're looking for fresh locations all the time that are opening up,” said Medved. “So it's a good time for filming. Filming is coming back to California.”

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If you're looking for The One Oh One® Design Collective visit: https://www.theoneohone.com/

Michelle Loxton joined KCLU in June 2021 as Podcast and Digital Content Producer.