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Credit: Andrew Nuñez

Although Los Angeles continues to see the motion picture and television industries flee the city to save money, the Antelope Valley has been making considerable strides in welcoming crews to film here and benefit the local economy.

The Antelope Valley Film Office this month released its yearly report and says the number of film permits issued between July 2012 and July 2013 were up four percent over the same period in 2011-2012. Within the past year, officials report 13 commercials, 11 television programs, eight motion pictures and three music videos selected Lancaster as their backdrop. The report stated the top three revenue-generating categories (commercials, television shows and feature films) accounted for an impressive 82 percent of filming in Lancaster.

That is welcome news to municipal officials who tout the city as a “new frontier” of solar power, new business start-ups/relocation and now television and movie production.

“On-location filming is great for the entire Antelope Valley,” said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. “This past fiscal year, it generated an economic impact of nearly $10 million. We must continue our mission to always be a film-ready and business-friendly location.”

It has been a good year for local film production, up four percent and totaling 332 permits as opposed to 289 in fiscal year 2011-12. Production days were said to be up 10 pecent, with a total of 553 days of shooting versus 503 during the previous fiscal year.

Traditionally “on-location” filming has a positive economic impact for any community: money is received through local rental fees, hotel stays, food and beverage purchases, gas, equipment rentals and basic construction supplies (lumber for sets, paint for backdrops, etc.). Not to be forgotten are sales taxes, permit fees and what are called “transient occupancy taxes” (assessed in California when occupying a room(s) at a hotel, inn, motel or house).

One unique feature that draws filmmakers and others to Lancaster is the nostalgic “motel row” featuring 1950s- and 1960s-era architecture en vogue among such TV shows as the AMC drama “Mad Men” and USAs “Suits,” or popular films like “Catch Me If You Can,” “Pleasantville” or “Dreamgirls.”

Other venues in Lancaster which have appealed to Hollywood include Lancaster Municipal Stadium, William J. Fox Airfield, Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, Elks Lodge and Lancaster City Park. A number of television shows have been filmed in Lancaster over the past year, including the reality shows “Extreme Makeover Weightloss Edition,” “Top Gear,” “Barter Kings” and “Storage Wars.” Scenes from conventional television dramas filmed recently in Lancaster include the CBS drama “The Mentalist” and the new TNT series “Lost Angels.” The latter expected to air this year. Also, the reality series “Truck Off” has been staged at the University of Antelope Valley campus on Sierra Highway.

There have been two Super Bowl commercials filmed in Lancaster (a “Head and Shoulders” spot featuring C.J. Wilson of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, filmed at Hangar Stadium) and a Hyundai Motors commercial filmed on the streets of Lancaster.

All total, there were 289 productions—from feature films, to commercials to music videos—shot in Lancaster over the past year. The most popular locales are the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, (popular because of the colorful backdrop it presents yearly from mid-March through mid-May), Saddleback Butte State Park (a granite mountaintop elevated 3,651 feet overlooing the alluvial bottom land of the Antelope Valley—the western edge of the Mojave Desert), Koch’s Movie Ranch in Acton, and Hacienda Lane Ranch (between Quartz Hill and Leona Valley) noted for western “period” films.

This past year, feature films shot in Lancaster have totaled 31 projects (130 production days), including the Superman epic “Man of Steel” at Edwards Airforce Base, Tom Cruise’s salute to heavy metal, “Rock of Ages” at the Pioneer Event Center; “Bling Ring,” “Model Home” and the new drag racing film “Snake and Mongoose” about the legendary competition between Don “Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen.

Among the 36 television projects (57 production days) were the returning dramas “True Blood,” “Southland,” “Sons of Anarchy,” and “Parenthood.”

The picturesque scenery of the region has also lured Mazda, Chevrolet, Subaru, Honda, Toyota, Dodge Ram Trucks, Lincoln and Land Rover to utilize the natural backdrop for their automobile commercials.

Pauline East, film liaison officer for the Antelope Valley Film Office, touts her group as a “one-stop” source for studios wishing to film within the region’s natural landscape. “We have a beautiful backdrop here—perfect for directors who want a natural setting,” East said. In years past, the Antelope Valley was home to many western location shoots, but today the popular “forensic” investigative dramas have chosen the area, specifically for the desert views. “Any scripted show that calls for a desert backdrop is most likely filmed here. We get lots of car commercials at some of the movie ranches. Palmdale and Lancaster are very film-friendly cities.”

There is an enticing list of filming locations in the Antelope Valley which are convenient for Hollywood. First are the locations highlighted by vast parcels of vacant desert property, some of which feature Joshua Trees. The granite buttes (small jaggy mountains), and long stretches of road can be desirable for panoramic views (establishment shots). Then there are the rock ruins, working ranches, 1950’s-style neighborhoods (early tract homes) and even a World War II-era detention center.

Koch’s Movie Ranch in Acton lies within the Sierra Pelona Mountains, just off Highway 14 near Palmdale. It is designed like an old-west rural town including a number of historical buildings some of which date back to the 1800s. The film ranch is somewhat similar to the “Calico Ghost Town” at Knott’s Berry Farm and spans 160 acres to include a 6,000-square-foot-home, a 5,000-square-foot building, a cabin, a waterfall with a gazebo, a mineshaft, barn and even an outhouse. Acton was one of the filming locations for then-unknown director Steven Spielberg’s 1971 TV-movie classic “Duel” starring Dennis Weaver, and also for Clint Eastwood’s 2002 mystery-thriller “Blood Work” which also starred Jeff Daniels.

Portions of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Terminator 3” were filmed in Acton, as were some of the underwater scenes of the Titanic sinking during director James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster .

Other popular area locations for filming include Blue Cloud Ranch (just north of Valencia), Polsa Rosa Ranch in Acton, and the famous Melody Ranch in Santa Clarita (once owned by Gene Autry and a favorite filming site for early cowboy stars William S. Hart, Tom Mix, William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd, John Wayne and Roy Rogers) and for director Quentin Terantino’s “Django Unchained.”

The AV film office offers a number of handy services for productions such as a digital location library with a resource guide and links to the AV film office. Location scouting assistance is available as is 24-hour “on-location” production support teams. Also, the Antelope Valley is the closest desert to Hollywood offering more than 3,000 square miles of terrain. The area is only 60 minutes from Los Angeles via Highway 14, and there’s even an airport for private jets and helicopters. Film permits are said to take less than a week for consideration and approval. All of this can amout to job creation, to the extent that the California Federation of Labor—for the first time ever—has endorsed such programs that incorporate a “rigorous and transparent” film application, reporting and auditing process.

Tax credits have now become the big issue these days, because for on-location shoots, major studios frequently had previously opted to leave the “Motion Picture Capital of the World” in favor of states like North Carolina or Georgia, or even travel to Eastern Europe as Sylvester Stallone did with his popular action-adventure franchise “The Expendibles.” It was filmed in far-off locales ranging from Brazil to Bulgaria.

California’s film tax credit program was instituted in 2009 to persuade producers to film locally. The program offers a credit of 20 to 25 percent toward “qualified” production expenses. The state allocates $100 million annually toward the credit, which can be applied to offset income or sales tax liabilities. A 2012 report released by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) concluded that every tax credit dollar returned $1.13 to state coffers. Some reports, however, have concluded that the revenue generated by the tax credit program was likely to be less than $1 for every tax credit dollar.