Big awards show this weekend honors the true stars of Hollywood

From its humble beginnings as a cookout on a lawn near the Queen Mary in Long Beach, the California On Location Awards, which take place Sunday at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey, have come a long way in their push to recognize the hard work of location managers and scouts.

Which is good, because filming in California has become tougher and tougher.

Location managers not only have to deal with productions leaving the state, they also have the difficult task of interpreting what a director has in his head and then contending with the obstacles of shooting on location. There's the challenge of negotiating a return to a "burned" location — one that had a nasty experience in the past and wants no more filming. It can be tricky to get a group of homeowners or businesses to be reasonable in their demands for compensation; sometimes when Hollywood comes calling, the location sees that as a money truck moving into the neighborhood. And there are always more rules and red tape to cut through, not to mention environmental concerns to address.

"For us, the location managers and scouts are the stars," says Sheri Davis of the Inland Empire Film Commission. Davis, Pauline East and Janice Arrington co-chair the awards, put on by Film Liaisons in California, Statewide, which comprises 45 film commissions and film offices.

Those commissions, plus location managers and other industryites, nominate the candidates, who are then voted on by an industry panel that includes location professionals, producers and even production designers.

This year, on the TV side, the location teams and production companies behind "24," "Dexter," "House," "Mad Men" and "NCIS" were nominated, while the features that earned noms were "Eagle Eye," "Hancock," "Milk" and "Valkyrie." Additionally, noms for location professional of the year for episodic TV went to "CSI," "Entourage" and "The Unit."

The biggest award, however, is the location professional of the year award for features. This year's nominees are:

> Doug Dresser, for Screen Gems/Stage 6's comedy "Fired Up," who managed a first when he persuaded the city of South Pasadena to close its downtown for an entire day. He not only persuaded local business to allow filming but convinced everyone to be fair-minded and not demand huge payment. He also had to placate the city's public works department, which was working on a major construction project and didn't understand why filming couldn't begin at 4 p.m.

> Greg Alpert, for Universal/Imagine's "Frost/Nixon," who persuaded the owner of the site of Richard Nixon's former Western White House in San Clemente to open up the home, which lies behind two gated communities, for filming, a first for that property. He also sweet-talked the neighbors into letting their lawns be used for trailers and tents. On top of that, Alpert secured permission to shoot inside the Richard Nixon Library, using some of its memorabilia, the re-created White House East Room and a real helicopter. He then got "Frost/Nixon" to donate to the library the production's mock-up of the helicopter's interior.

> Becky Brake, who was the supervising location manager of Paramount's "Star Trek," directed by J.J. Abrams. Details on what she did are being kept secret so as not to give away the plot, which is right in line with her duty of keeping the sites confidential to avoid intrusion by fans.

> Jonathan "J.J." Hook, for Universal's "Land of the Lost," which shot in the Inland Empire and Ridgecrest. Hook worked with the Regional Film Commission of the Bureau of Land Management on a sequence that saw 25 stunt cars drive on BLM land, all at the same time. He then worked hard to restore the location to its previous state.

Davis, East and Arrington may soon see a tangible result from their fight: Saturday, for the first time, a panel of location managers including Mike Fantasia, Tim Hillman, Craig Van Gundy and Veronique Vowell are speaking to the DGA and producers on topics including what their job entails and the current state of filming in L.A.

"It's good that people understand just how much we do and how much preparation goes into it," says Van Gundy, who was the supervising location manager for "Eagle Eye." "The filming environment is very different than what it was even five years ago."

Borys Kit can be reached at borys.kit@THR.com.