Transforming a hotel or resort into a production-friendly and production-ready facility requires a major shift in dynamics. However, if there’s one thing the pandemic has instilled in the hospitality industry is the necessity to adapt and change. The pivot to production for a hotel or resort involves repurposing infrastructure, staff retraining and all importantly, adhering to upgraded safety and cleanliness standards to create a viable production bubble.
Not every hotel or resort has the requisite facilities or space to handle a major production crew overnighting on site much less handle the trucks, equipment and demand for scenic locations. Several recent resourceful examples demonstrate the creative possibilities of converting a resort into an impromptu backlot, concert venue or soundstage.
In the U.K., the 110-acre Down Hall Hotel & Spa served as production home and location for “The Great British Bake Off’” and a bio-bubble for the nearly 100-member cast and crew. The Four Seasons Mexico City, in partnership with ViacomCBS, transformed the hotel’s photogenic central courtyard into vertical concert experience as a showcase for Mexican rockers Fobia. The innovative, physically distanced format (produced in conjunction with ColoursCMX) allowed concertgoers to watch the band’s performance from inside guest rooms overlooking the eight-story courtyard where the stage was located. And the 45-acre La Quinta Resort & Club, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in La Quinta (near Indio, 40 or so minutes from Palm Springs) most recently hosted the production of season 16 of ABC’s “The Bachelorette.”
The sprawling 796-room La Quinta Resort & Club has a well-documented Hollywood history (Frank Capra wrote “It Happened One Night” here) and location track record (standout credits include Bravo’s Top Chef season 13 “Top Chef California”).
“It took a pandemic to recognize that the production of meetings and TV/film productions are not that far off: the conducting of everything is somewhat parallel, the infrastructure lends itself to production and provides a creative backdrop and change of scenery,” explains Chris George, La Quinta’s director of marketing.
Converting to a production facility, even for a limited time frame, required adjustment to new roles. “We had to change our mindset and our structure in the way we approach group business,” George says. Unlike typical meeting planning, the hotel team was not the entity in charge. “We needed to take a step back, we are a location, we’re not the producers,” he adds. To that end, the hotel and “The Bachelorette” production team met daily to reassess efforts.
It was a full court press from the hotel’s general manager to events services, front office, executive chef and housekeeping to ensure that producers had access to every aspect of the hotel from a logistics standpoint. For one, the hotel was closed to the general public during the top-secret production; secondly, as a production bubble, the property was segmented off to meet revolving production and cast/crew quarantine needs.
La Quinta’s gated, low-rise campus meant a controlled environment for the 350-person production. Parking lots were reconfigured to accommodate the various departments and their attendant trucks and trailers. The resort’s 160,000-sq.-ft. ballroom served as soundstage complete with upgraded air conditioning and air filtration.
The need for a grand-sized property to guarantee privacy and a contained production applied to another hit reality show produced during pandemic times. Throughout the six weeks of shooting “The Great British Bake Off” (Channel 4 in U.K./Netflix in the U.S.), the cast, crew and even some children, chaperones and dog walkers lived together on property at the 98-room historic Down Hall estate, a traditional country house in Essex, 45 minutes from central London.
Repeated testing and nine days of self-isolation were required before moving to the hotel, which also served as “The Great British Bake Off’s” competition location. The expansive grounds included space for practice baking tents with kitchens utilized by the bakers on off days. The result of the strict production protocols: competitors did not need to socially distance on set so the production could come across looking as normal as possible on screen.
La Quinta’s diverse environments and varied spaces — from Greta Garbo’s favorite villa notable for its Spanish Revival architectural details to the hotel’s lobby redressed for the show’s theatrical rose ceremonies — were draws and made the cut. For non-working cast and crew, the hotel’s grounds and recreational opportunities (including 41 pools and 23 tennis courts) made bubble life more than bearable. Room service menus (available online) were revised to meet the crew’s schedules and dietary requests; distribution was available via contactless delivery.
“Since the pandemic we had been operating in an environment of decreased demand, we had to monitor and maintain alternate sources of business,” says La Quinta’s George. “The Bachelorette” takeover was a win/win for all, he adds. “The hotel is utilized while the production company is given an alternate location in a safe manner,” one that is turnkey. Various room types added to the appeal from deluxe rooms for crew to VIP suites and private casitas for talent and executives.
Since “The Bachelorette” wrapped, the Olivia Wilde-directed “Don’t Worry Darling,” and Food Network’s “Chopped” have also booked room blocks and photogenic resort spaces at La Quinta. “The pandemic created the need for a product like this, one that has a bubble environment and is mixed with hospitality,” says George. “It takes a lot of heavy lifting off producers.”