We Bought a Zoo: Making the Scene

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Posted by Greg on March 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm
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A great new NPR article/podcast about film locations scouts came out recently. You read the entire piece here, but I’ve included the relevant We Bought a Zoo quotes with location manager Chris Baugh and Cameron Crowe below. Furthermore, you can listen to the NPR audio for the story here.

Near Hollywood, some other streets have been closed in recent weeks for a film called We Bought a Zoo. Director Cameron Crowe was filming in the neighborhood of Los Feliz.

“Yesterday I came in angry,” says local resident Kerry Sutkin. But it didn’t last. “Matt Damon kept walking by.”

Four-legged neighbors? Gotta think of them, too. Miles from Los Feliz, on a 450-acre ranch in Thousand Oaks, location manager Chris Baugh is overseeing the creation of that same film’s zoo — made from scratch just for the movie. There are horses pastured nearby, and while everything seems bucolic and calm at the moment, that could change: Tigers will eventually populate the zoo set.

“Wait till we bring in the big cats,” Baugh says.

Plus, there will be a lot of other creatures on the film — flamingos, llamas, monkeys and the bear. For a six-week shoot, Baugh will also have to provide facilities for the care, feeding and safety of a tamer group (one hopes): the cast and crew.

It must be tempting to throw up your hands, say it’s too difficult, opt to build the zoo on a sound stage instead. But that’s not an option for a location scout.

“We’re not allowed to say no; we have to make it work. So we find a way,” Baugh says.

At a small corner restaurant back in Los Feliz, shooting has begun for the Matt Damon movieWe Bought a Zoo. Location manager Chris Baugh, who was working before on the zoo construction at the ranch, comes to Los Feliz to solve a few problems on the neighborhood set. One question comes from the best boy grip, who wants to know where on the location he can park his car.

It’s little things like that that fill up a location manager’s day. Baugh says it’s like throwing a full-blown wedding for 200 people — in a different place every day for 50 days. Except that at these weddings, commandos drop onto the roof some days, or a machine gun fight begins. And then there’s a tidal wave.

When problems crop up, Baugh says, the cry goes up: ” ‘Get me location, get me locations, where the hell is locations?’ And you have to solve everything.”

Director Cameron Crowe says it’s all worth it, if it helps an actor like Damon.

“What was great was being able to bring him to these places and say, ‘This is what we found.’ And he immediately said, ‘I feel the movie here. I can play this character,’ ” Crowe says.

For Crowe, the long, hard work of location scouting — and set designing, lighting, cinematography, performing, directing, all of it — is most successful when it disappears.

“The movie should make it all feel invisible,” he says. “The movie should make it feel like you’re just viewing somebody living a life. To be living a life on screen, they have to feel like that’s their house, this is where they were born. [They have to be] comfortable enough to make you believe it.”


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