on location

H'wood '06 travelogue: From France to Africa

With more tax incentives to lure production away from Hollywood and globalization influencing filmmaking in terms of story and talent, film production reached well beyond the backlot in 2006.

The first half of the year saw the location spotlight shine on Europe, particularly France. With such movies as "The Da Vinci Code" and "Marie Antoinette," France basked in the warmth of the world's media, which extolled the virtues of the country's cinematic museums and chateaux.

The spotlight, however, shifted to Africa in the second half as movies, both in production and in release, put filming in what once was known as the dark continent front and center like never before. The roster includes action movies like the upcoming "The Bourne Ultimatum"; movies that pack a message, like "Blood Diamond"; movies that look at Africa's recent past, such as "Catch a Fire" and "The Last King of Scotland"; and movies that tackle international themes, like "Babel." All reflect the more complex world we live in and filmmakers' desire to tell stories set there.

Connecticut, New Jersey and South Carolina were among the states that put into effect new tax incentives for filmmaking, luring more productions out of California and making the California Film Commission's job all the more difficult.

Set aside the larger business issues at play for a moment. While location shooting is work, it also is a form of travel, and like any good trip it can have a profound effect on a person. The filmmakers of "We Are Marshall," which opens Friday, found themselves changed by their experience of shooting the movie ? about the aftermath of a 1970 plane crash that killed most of the Marshall College football team ? in Huntington, W.Va., the town where the events took place.

"We felt tremendous pressure, and it was so emotional, but we became such good friends with the real people that it was the best experience of our lives," producer Basil Iwanyk said after attending the premiere there.

Several new books also offer perspectives on location filming. "Hollywood Escapes," by Harry Medved and Bruce Akiyama, is a travel guide promoting the rich tradition of location filming in Southern California, built around visits to the locations for dozens of classic films.

From Rizzoli, on the 40th anniversary of the founding of the New York City Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, comes "Scenes From the City: Filmmaking in New York." The book traces decade by decade the movies and districts that have created the city's cinematic history.

"On Location" focuses on 18 cities around the world (three in the U.S.) along with the classic and popular movies that either were set or shot in the urban centers. From the Tokyo bar where Bill Murray sang karaoke in "Lost in Translation" to London's King's Cross subway station, it's all there, including maps.

"We were sneaking into a courtyard where Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn spend their first night together (in 1953's 'Roman Holiday')," co-author Claudine Weber-Hof said, "and we imagined other travelers getting the same kick."

Here's to more kicks in 2007.