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How ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ Turned the Clock Back for Its Shoot

Crossing the street took months for the crew that turned back the clock 50 years on Hollywood Boulevard for Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.”

Production designer Barbara Ling created false fronts for buildings that were constructed off-site and installed by crane just ahead of the shoot. Set decorator Nancy Haigh described the location shoot on the famed L.A. street as a “military operation,” and prepared her large team via rehearsals staged in a local warehouse. “We photographed what it was going to look like, and everybody had their assignments,” she says.

Their work had to be done on two separate occasions, as concessions to the city meant the production could prepare and shoot only one side of Hollywood Boulevard at a time. After the first shoot, it was months before the other side of the street could be prepped and the rest of the scene shot. 

The work was done physically because Tarantino eschewed the idea of digital set extensions for his tale of waning TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) making their way through a changing industry and encountering actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) just before her murder at the hands of Charles Manson’s followers. 

Even timeless locations such as the Musso & Frank Grill required tweaks for the shoot. Ling redesigned the building’s facade to replicate its look in 1969, and the restaurant’s longtime staff members clued her in to a period-specific detail history buffs will appreciate. The waiters told her the exact dinnerware the restaurant used during the era. “They pulled the plates out of storage for us,” Ling says.

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Areas of Sunset Boulevard and Westwood received similar treatment throughout production. And while the work on Hollywood Boulevard was conspicuously impressive, Haigh says she hopes audiences appreciate the movie’s other environments. 

“The character sets were really luscious to do,” says Haigh. They alternated between the pure opulence of the Playboy Mansion and more typical settings of the time. Since it’s a period film, it was an unforgiving process. “Everything the cameras saw had to be changed out to 50 years ago,” she notes.

The movie re-created sets from real ’60s TV shows like “The Green Hornet” and fictitious ones like “Bounty Law,” a star vehicle for DiCaprio’s character. Ling says the Western sets were “built specifically for [classic] stunts, like a guy crashing through a window. ” 

Recognizing the period-specific details in context is a big part of the film, says Haigh. “You have restaurants like Taco Bell and things that are part of our skyline now that everybody takes for granted,” she says, “but in 1969 they were fresh and new.” 

Hollywood’s Aquarius Theater, later Nickelodeon on Sunset, was recreated with murals advertising the musical “Hair.”
Courtesy of ANDREW COOPER/Columbia Pictures
The Vine Theater, showing playing the 1968 film “Romeo and Juliet,” is still standing on Hollywood Boulevard, but the Orange Julius stand next door is long gone.
Courtesy of ANDREW COOPER/Columbia Pictures
Dozens of vintage cars were used in the production, which recreated the facades of vintage stores like The Supply Sergeant army surplus and Peaches Records & Tapes.
Courtesy of ANDREW COOPER/Columbia Pictures
The Fox Westwood Village Theater, now the Regency Village, looks much the same now as it did in the era of convertibles with fins.
Courtesy of ANDREW COOPER/Columbia Pictures

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