How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.
How do they do that? Cast Metro in movies, commercials and TV shows
The answer is that they don’t. The production companies come to Metro. Usually.
For the 2003 movie “The Italian Job” the film makers approached Metro and booked a shoot that lasted a few days at the Red Line Hollywood/Highland Station and the 7th/Metro Center Station.
In the completed film, a convoy of Mini Coopers (watch trailer) drives down the steps of the Hollywood/Highland Station and into the subway tunnel — a period of time that lasted only a few seconds in the movie but involved days of shooting. For the shoot, the stair railings had to be removed to accommodate the cars and the production company constructed false steps to protect the real ones from the pounding of the Mini Coopers, which were small but not exactly weightless.
Rather than ducking into the Hollywood/Highland subway tunnel as it appeared in the movie, the cars were filmed driving down the platform and onto the tracks at 7th/Metro Station because there was more room to maneuver. Also, a pursuing train that’s supposed to be the Red Line subway was actually a Blue Line where it runs underground just before emerging at Pico Station.
Over the years Metro trains, buses and properties have appeared in many hundreds of films, commercials and TV shows. Among recent shows are “The Mentalist,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Modern Family,” “Criminal Minds” and “CSI.” During the past nine months alone, 51 shoots have occurred on Metro property.
Among the highest profile is “Minority Report,” starring Tom Cruise trying to escape the police on the subway, while another passenger (Cameron Crowe in a cameo, with Cameron Diaz sitting behind him) reads a constantly updating newspaper on which a “wanted” photo of Cruise appears as the passenger faces him. (Such was sci-fi before the iPad.) “Speed” (play trailer) starred Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock careening through the L.A. streets in an out-of-control bus (the bus was Big Blue but the subway that followed was Metro) before culminating in a scene involving the Red Line in which a subway car ended up at street level.
And, as mentioned, “The Italian Job,” in which Mini Coopers race down the subway tracks.
Shooting can be done in the subway, on light-rail, on the bus, with a bus in the background or at Metro headquarters. But much of it — particularly on the rail lines — occurs at night, after the last train has delivered the last passenger for the day. Filming may not interfere with service.
But if shooting does not affect service it can happen during the day, such as a passing Metro bus masquerading as a passing San Francisco Muni bus on the TV show “Monk.” For the movie “Minority Report,” a daytime scene was scheduled after the director Steven Spielberg personally scouted the location. It was to occur in the vacant Metro Board room but the room didn’t have exactly the right look for the plot. So props and new furniture and fixtures were brought in and the room redecorated for the shoot. At midday, just as setup was concluding, a call came in saying the scene had been cut. So the production crew removed all of the props and furniture and restored the room to its normal look.
Commercials using Metro are frequently seen on TV. Recently shot — but perhaps not yet aired — include those for BMW, Microsoft, Walgreens, Special K, Almond Joy, the National Hockey League, McDonald’s, Subaru and Nissan.
Fees charged to film production companies range from $150 per hour for a bus and bus operator to $6,000 for a minimum of 6 hours in one of the train stations, both subway and light rail, plus control of a train. Rates are kept low to encourage filming in Los Angeles, which in recent years has migrated to other parts of the U.S. and Canada. So if you want Tom Cruise running through a subway station you will need to pay more than if there’s a quick subway crime that needs solving by Patrick Jane on “The Mentalist.”
It’s not difficult to book a shoot, although there are, of course, time and safety restrictions. Here are the guidelines. Pretty much all filming is booked through metro.net.
One exception was the J.J. Abrams TV series “Alias,” about a globe-trotting female secret agent (Jennifer Garner). When the series decided to create a new super secret agency in new super secret headquarters, they choose the Metro Red Line, behind an imaginary door off the tracks between Civic Center and Union Station. That filming request broke with protocol in that it came up at a high school graduation party attended by an “Alias” writer and a Metro officer. Over burgers they discussed the idea, which evolved into the new setting and plot line. Only in Hollywood.
The list Metro has of films, programs and commercials shot on Metro facilities is a little on the old side. Please feel free to leave a comment if there’s a scene you remember involving Metro.