From Hitchcock To Liberace: Finding Their Hollywood Spots

Cannes Film Festival

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Despite statistics that illustrate a steady flow of film, television and commercial projects leaving the California borders, Location Manager Caleb Duffy continues to find steady work in state.

“Luckily, I’ve not had to go out of the state for the last five years, and I’ve maintained steady employment,” said Duffy.

After a moment of reflection, Duffy realizes there was on unavoidable circumstance last year that required a month on location in Las Vegas. He was the location manager on “Behind the Candelabra,” an upcoming HBO special currently in post-production that will explore the life of famed pianist and Vegas staple Liberace. However, the most recent release he secured locations for, “Hitchcock,” was shot entirely in California, and earned the location manager behind such features as “Thor” and “The Artist” the COLA Location Manager of the Year Award for his work.

Duffy’s involvement in the project began after executive producer Richard Middleton asked him to read the script. The two had worked together on several other projects, including “The Artist,” and Middleton knew Duffy would not only find the project interesting, but add to its overall value. Months before pre-production began, Duffy was asked to put together a visual package of locations in LA that would make the project work. He went through his database and pulled together locations that met the needs of the film. He then met with director Sacha Gervasi to ensure they shared a connected vision.

“Sasha sees in a very wide scope, and the research was very important to him,” said Duffy. “This was a story about a film maker in Hollywood. The story had to be set in Los Angeles for practical reasons. We’d never get an authentic look of Paramount anywhere else.”

Half the movie was shot on a soundstage, with the other half on location. Working closely with the production designer Judy Becker, they achieved a seem-less look between interiors and exteriors that were true to the historical connection. For scenes that focused on the creation of sets on a soundstage, Duffy secured the stages at Red Studio. Becker then went in to provide some tweaks to ensure the doors and sound-proofing were in synch with the styles of the 60s.

“They had just the right look,” said Duffy. “The stage was built between 1910-20, and has wonderful sliding elephant doors.

” Scenes shot on the Paramount lot were much trickery. Duffy worked with several producers shooting television shows and other features on the lot to modify their configurations so space could be cleared and time-period authentic for the “Hitchcock” shoot. Duffy carefully reviewed photos, archival material and spoke with past employees to ensure every detail matched the studio’s original façade; right down to ensuring all Paramount graphics were matches with the logo from the late 1950s.

One of the “Hitchcock” locations Duffy was most fond of was Whitfield Cook’s beech house. Duffy had been scouting locations up and down the coast from Crystal Cove to Santa Barbara, searching for the right spot. He stumbled across the location: a small state lifeguard house behind a cliff near Sycamore Cove, by sheer luck.

“I was so frustrated; I didn’t want to drive the 101 because going down the coast is the long way, but I wanted to go by the ocean, roll down the window, and clear my head,” said Duffy. “I came around the corner and there it was. I didn’t see it the first time because it was on a cliff and obscured from view.”

Because the house is an active training facility used by the state, shooting is not permitted. Working with Becker, he devised a plan he hoped would allow them to secure the site for the film. The house was in need of restructuring. In addition to general repairs, the crew put in a new hardwood floor. The improvements made granted them permission to use the location.

While Duffy does much of the leg work to find perfect locations, he works with a team to obtain permissions, permits, clearances, parking and security staff that allow locations to be used. The teams can range from a few people to forty, depending on the size and scope of the project. He splits his team to assist with three core elements: pre-production location scouting and information gathering, obtaining permits, clearances and parking, an support on the set that help run the show ensuring there are no hold ups or delays.

“You need at least two people on location,” said Duffy. “For Liberace (Behind the Candelabra), we had five locations in one day; there were three moves and four locations in constant stages of set up or strike. We needed eight people on the ground managing all these details.”

In reflection of his Location Manager of the Year Award, Duffy describes the experience as “humbling.” He insists the award is more the reflection of his team’s ability to do really good work, obtain all the documents and approvals necessary, and constantly keep excellent relations wherever they shoot.

“I don’t allow myself or my team to sell a false bill of goods,” said Duffy. “We’ll jump through hoops to get the job done, but we won’t lie to the public or the producers. We set high standards, and that allows another company to come in behind us and be well received.”