Ben Affleck’s movie “Argo” is set in the 1970s in Tehran, Iran, during the hostage crisis.
With a budget of $44 million, a tight shooting schedule, and no way to go to Iran for on-location production, Mr. Affleck had to get creative with his filming locations. Armed with a $6.4 million tax credit from the California film commission, Mr. Affleck and his production crew set out in the summer of 2011 to re-create 1970s Tehran in southern California.
With the help of a condemned airport terminal, 800 Persians from Beverly Hills, and 95-year-old Zsa Zsa Gabor, what he did was quite creative:
Miss Gabor’s mansion in Beverly Hills was used to depict the home of Lester Siegel, the film’s crusty producer of the film-within-a-film. Although Miss Gabor was at home during the time the crew shot there, she was said to be too ill – and confined to bed – to watch the proceedings.
To re-create the Tehran airport, the crew contracted to use an old terminal – now closed to the public and scheduled for demolition – at the Ontario International Airport, some 60 miles east of Los Angeles. The terminal was outfitted with signage in Farsi, and ayatollah posters to render the terminal inside a reasonable facsimile of Tehran’s chaotic Mehrabad airport. For exteriors, including aerials of Tehran, the filmmakers used computer imaging. These shots included re-creating the Alborz mountain range over the “Tehran” skyline, and conjuring up a fake Boeing 747.
The extras in the shots were actually, for the most part, real Persians. Many of the 800 or so extras were from in and around Beverly Hills – where a large community of Persians lives today; some of the performers really had emigrated from Tehran around the time of the fall of the shah’s government – so they were more authentic participants than movie-goers might realize.
What about the U.S. Embassy shown in the film? It was the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in North Hills – a San Fernando Valley suburb. The med center is a well-known substance abuse treatment facility. The building has a similar red brick facade and the correct number of stories, needed to fill-in for the former U.S. Embassy. (The actual embassy building still exists in Tehran; Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps use it for a training facility.)
Fans of the Academy Award-winner, “The Artist”, may notice that the same general Hancock Park neighborhood in L.A. is where the “Canadian ambassador’s residence” was located. Although some residents said they were weary after all the recent films that have been shot in the area, the neighborhood association voted to allow Mr. Affleck and his crew to set up shop there for almost a month.
The “Burbank Studios” and its iconic water tower is the modern-day Warner Brothers lot. Interestingly, the Warner Bros. water tower really was painted “Burbank Studios” in 1979.
The crew also filmed for about two weeks in Istanbul, Turkey (filming the Golden Horn, Old City-Sultanahmet area, Grand Bazaar and stunning Hagia Sophia mosque) and Washington, D.C. (including the actual CIA headquarters in nearby McLean, Va.)
So here’s a final bit of movie location trivia about “Argo”: It’s a movie based on fact. But just about every location depicted in the film is fiction – except for one place. Know what it is?
It’s the historic Smokehouse Restaurant in Burbank, right next to Warner Bros. studios. That’s where the “film-makers” in the movie actually hatched their ruse to rescue the six Americans trapped in Tehran. The restaurant has been a fixture in Burbank since 1946, and has long been a popular hangout for the movie community. Hence, all the stars’ photos on the walls. And hence the name of the movie’s production company, Smokehouse Pictures!
[Watch the official HD Argo trailer here: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1537319449/%5D
October 12, 2012