The 11th annual California On-Location Awards (COLAs) were handed out on October 23 at a packed gathering in downtown Los Angeles.Professionals and production companies who have shot on location in the state during the past year are eligible, as well as local, county, state and federal employees who assist in film production.Location manager Mike Fantasia received the Location Professional of the Year award for theatrical features, for his work on soon-to-be-released Memoirs of a Geisha. Sony, which made and is distributing Geisha, was named Production Company of the Year. Though set in Japan, the film was mainly shot in Northern and Southern California.Around 500 location managers, location scouts, unit production managers, writers, producers and directors from around the country who have worked in California in recent years were there for the event put on by Film Liaisons in California Statewide. FLICS, founded in 1988, sponsors the awards for the best-in-California “On Location” film production. FLICS works with 59 film offices around California and with the state’s film commission.“We work to promote and retain filming around California,” said FLICS executive director Ray Arthur, who is also the head of the Ridgecrest Regional Film Commission.“The last year was average for filming in California, about the same as the last three or four years—but nothing like what we had in the 1990s,” Arthur added. “We continue to be impacted by runaway production on features. And the increase in reality television means that there’s less on-location shooting outside Los Angeles.”Because the California State Film Commission’s funding was sliced several years ago, FLICS has taken on a bigger role in training professionals and in marketing California locations. Recently FLICs reorganized to become a non-profit organization.This year’s award winners:Location Professional of the Year, Features: Mike Fantasia, Memoirs of a GeishaProduction Company of the Year, Features: Sony Pictures, Memoirs of a GeishaLocation Professional of the Year, Television: John Grant, ’70s HouseProduction Company of the Year, Television: Fox, 24Location Professional of the Year, Commercials: Michael Fricke, Liberty MutualProduction Company of the Year, Commercials: RSA-USA, BoeingLocation Professional of the Year, Stills: Peter Newfield, Land’s EndProduction Company of the Year, Stills: Team Halprin, GMC TruckCity Employee of the Year: Phan Vuong, Los Angeles,County Employee of the Year: Steven Durkin, San Mateo CountryState Employee of the Year: Gamal Kostandy, Cal-TransFederal Employee of the Year: Cindy Oswald, National Forest Service – El DoradoMemoirs of a Geisha, the soon-to-be-released film from Sony Pictures that tells the story of a girl from a small fishing village who rises to the heights of Japan’s geisha culture, was, most viewers will be surprised to learn, shot almost entirely in California.“We had a small second unit that did some establishing shots in Japan, but all the rest was here,” Michael Fantasia, the location manager for Memoirs told Below The Line. He was named Location Professional of the Year for Features and Sony received the accolade as Studio of the Year, at the California On Location Awards ceremony in late October. Both were honored for Geisha.The “beauty locations” for the movie were Muir Beach in Marin County north of San Francisco; Moss Beach, 45 minutes south of San Francisco in San Mateo County, and the adjacent Fitzgerald Marine Reserve with its precipitous jutting cliffs; the reknowned Japanese Garden at the Huntington Museum and Gardens in Pasadena, with its perfect half-moon bridge; and the nearby Descanso Gardens in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, an entire Japanese village was built at Ventura Farms. Sets were constructed on other backlots in town, and some filming took place in Sacramento.“The studio initially made us look overseas to take advantage of tax incentives,” noted Fantasia, and Australia and Canada were surveyed “a little bit.”But director Rob Marshall and producers Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher, whose Red Wagon Productions had the project (Steven Spielberg who had bought the rights to the Arthur Golden novel initially is also listed as a producer), “did everything to keep the film in the United States.” And California had the range of required locations to provide the best overall setting, and financial adjustments were made to get Geisha filmed here. Exec producer Patti Whitcher, with line responsibilities, was also on the bandwagon.Director of photography “Dion Beebe, ASC and [production designer] John Myhre “created a beautiful world,” said the location manager, who began working on the project early in 2004.Lori Balton, the location scout, found most of the scenic settings to start with. Use of the marine reserve location near Moss Beach was worked out after public meetings were held, and there were discussions with federal, state and local environmental officials to preserve the pristine setting, home to numerous bird and marine species, including a sea-lion rookery. Shooting was not done on the beach, but only on the cliffs above the water, and straw was used to cover roads used by vehicles on the shoot.The location manager is one of the first people hired when a film project gets underway, and works until the last days of filming. “We need to stay one step ahead and one step behind,” says Fantasia. “I open the gate for the caterer and close it when the last truck leaves at the end of the day.”After finishing work on Geisha in the first part of 2005, he almost immediately started work in Hungary and Austria on Spielberg’s Munich, about the Israeli athletes taken hostage by terrorists at the 1972 Olympics, which only recently finished shooting but will wind up making the year-end release schedule with an opening set for around Christmas. “I’d say I’ve had a pretty good year,” said Fantasia, who has lately been taking a needed respite at home, watching a few leaves fall in what amounts to Southern California’s autumn.
Written by Jack Egan