Generic locales important to producers

Analysis: Anywhere USA

In the business of marketing locations, what makes one spot like everywhere else can often be as important as what sets it apart.

“I’ve been asked ‘Where’s your generic cul-de-sac?’ Where’s your anywhere USA?’ ” says Lisa Strout, director of the New Mexico Film Commission.

“Film offices usually look for what’s unique. What’s the anchor that’s going to draw production? But generic is important, too,” Strout says, noting the state’s location photo database now includes the commonplace.

“Can we do Bayou? No,” Strout adds, “but we can all do generic.”

Lionsgate’s made-in-New Mexico Dane Cook starrer “Employee of the Month,” for example, featured a megastore as a main setpiece.

Meanwhile, the northern Los Angeles County bedroom community of Santa Clarita often doubles for numerous cities and countries.

“We have thousands of locations but not one distinctive look,” explains Santa Clarita film analyst Jessica Freude.

From Imperial Beach (HBO’s “John from Cincinnati”) to the deep South of “The Riches” to “Big Love’s” Sandy, Utah, Santa Clarita has been just about everywhere. Also attractive to producers is that it’s within Los Angeles’ 30-mile zone, so shooting there doesn’t require a crew travel day or per diems.

Upping requests for the generic: Today’s scribes often don’t designate locale. Sometimes, it’s to contend with the realities of financing and location incentives. Screenplays that are not location-specific can be budgeted for several regions for comparison. (“Juno’s” Midwestern high school is in Vancouver, for example.)

And sometimes it’s for creative purposes.

Scribe-helmer Daniel Barnz set the ThinkFilm release “Phoebe in Wonderland” in a small Northeastern college town. In pre-production, the team considered many locations on the East Coast, even Canada, but happily shot on Long Island and in Queens.

Barnz explains that specifying place isn’t critical to the narrative of the film, which stars Elle Fanning, Felicity Huffman, Patricia Clarkson and Bill Pullman.

“I felt the story had a universal and timeless appeal,” the helmer says. “In the script, I never identify the town or setting.”

Barnz credits his location scouts for finding a house in Queens, on the border of Great Neck, and other Long Island locations that could double for a picturesque Massachusetts college town.

Long Island is not as over-exposed as other New York locations, Barnz notes.

Film co-producer George Paaswell concurs: “The beauty of shooting in New York City is that you can find anything within the five boroughs — from rural roads on Staten Island to a dense metropolis.”

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