How a Shuttered L.A. Newspaper Found New Life on TV (and Escaped the Wrecking Ball)
This story first appeared in the July 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
When the Hearst Corp. shut down the scrappy but fading Los Angeles Herald Examiner, once the nation's largest afternoon newspaper, in 1989, the final edition carried the headline, "So Long, L.A.!" But while the newspaper itself went away, the 1915 building that housed it -- designed by architect Julia Morgan, it is considered a classic example of the Mission Revival style -- remained behind. And so far, it's managed to escape the wrecking ball by opening its doors to films like 1995's The Usual Suspects and 2006's Dreamgirls and, more recently, TV shows such as Castle, Parenthood and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Back when the Herald Examiner stopped publishing, Brian Brosnan, a former location manager who founded Hollywood Locations, a real estate brokerage that specializes in providing location services, convinced the Hearst Corp. that while deciding what to do with the building, it should make the location available for filming. Since then, Hollywood Locations has represented the building at 11th and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, attracting more than 1,250 shoots to the property. "We're on track now to have one of our best years ever," says Peter Brosnan, Brian's brother, who serves as Hollywood Locations' senior vp and CFO, of the building's new lease on life. "From big-budget TV shows to smaller indie features and web series, we've had 70 separate productions come through the property so far this year."
During the past two decades, overall filming in greater Los Angeles, faced with runaway production, has been in decline. In a comprehensive report released earlier this year, FilmL.A., the area's regional film office that issues filming permits for both the city of Los Angeles and surrounding areas in L.A. County, said that despite a double-digit increase in 2013, "local feature production [is] 50 percent below its 1996 peak, and TV drama production [is] 39 percent below its 2008 peak."
But the Herald Examiner has beaten the odds, becoming one of the most consistently popular sites for production work -- in 2013, it ranked number three among various locations in the city. In part, that's because the building now offers a variety of potential sets. While its ornate two-story lobby is suited for filming period pieces, 15 standing sets -- which can be adapted into more than 30 different looks -- also have been created on the other floors of the building. For example, its main police station set can do double-duty as a DMV office, while a second police set can be converted into a hospital. A bar set originally designed for Robert Altman's Short Cuts (1993) was rebuilt and used in the first two seasons of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And the building also offers a variety of apartment interiors.
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"We've built up quite a cache of looks here," says Bryan Erwin, who is the location's on-site manager. "I really think television should be credited with helping out independent filmmaking and new media, because a lot of the TV union guys have worked with me to upgrade the sets, and that's to the benefit of the smaller productions who then come here and get really great looks." He declines to spell out what various productions are charged, since rates are partly determined by a production's size, but he says, "My mantra is to be as budget-friendly as possible, to work with the shows and their budgets to make everything pay off."
While L.A. still is fighting to attract bigger-budget movies, the number of digital and web productions filming on location has grown, and the old newspaper building has taken advantage of that. "The Herald Examiner is a mirror of what is being made in town," says Erwin.