Lights, Camera, Hassle? What Happens When a Movie Location Becomes a Tourist Attraction

Each and every day, hordes of film fans descend on homes and businesses from their favorite movies—but what about the people who live and work there?
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Back in April, Los Angeles received an email from a reader requesting the removal of a residential address that had been published in a 2015 online article. The piece was about the filming locations from a then-recent installment of a mega blockbuster movie franchise. The reader explained that the constant influx of fans visiting the house had become “a nuisance” to the neighborhood. The address was removed from the article, but attempting to police the scores of postings around the web regarding the whereabouts of this particular location is an endless, futile task.

Stories of disgruntled owners and neighbors of fan-favorite filming locations are not uncommon. And who can blame them when you wake up everyday to hordes of trespassers on your property. When a request to see a famously filmed swimming pool is met with resistance, the owner may suddenly find a drone hovering in their backyard.

Thirty years ago, visitors to the Walk of Fame might catch a few famous filming locations on whatever random Hollywood bus tour they boarded, but the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Google maps, scores of fan websites, and social media have made the sharing and seeking out of filming locations much more accessible, for better or for worse.

Ed Intagliata, the owner of Cassell’s Music, remembers that upon the initial release of Wayne’s World (1992) he would get calls from neighborhood locals saying that they saw the store in the film, but those calls eventually tapered off.

“It really died down for about 10 or 15 years with no buzz or anything,” says Intagliata. He credits various online fan videos with re-sparking fan interest in visiting the store. Tourists from as far as Europe and Australia have made their way out to the San Fernando location where almost nothing has changed since the making of Wayne’s World. “They almost get the sense that they’re standing on the set,” says Intagliata. The original Plexiglas case that held Wayne’s pined-after ’64 Fender Stratocaster is still there, too.

cassell's music
Cassell’s Music from Wayne’s World

Jared Cowan

Rick Dallago, the location manager on both Father of the Bride films, says, “Now I think that people are much more interested in the making-of and the behind-the-scenes and the on-set antics more than they were before.”

A number of analyses credit the New Zealand locations from The Lord of the Rings trilogy with bringing film tourism into the mainstream. But if the $139 half-day tour—or the $5,100 14-day option—of the films’ painterly locations is not in the budget (never mind the travel expenses), film and TV fans can venture to some of their favorite filming locations without forking over a cent.

“When I first moved to Los Angeles as a 26-year-old dude, I couldn’t afford to do anything. I couldn’t afford to go to a bar. The things I did were I went to cemeteries to find famous people who were buried there and I went and found film locations,” says location manager David Lyons, whose credits include Dolemite Is My Name and Community. “I think there’s a lot of excitement to be found when you go around a corner and you’re like, ‘Is that…? That is.’”

Mark Cardella Sr. keeps the torch alive for the 20-year-old film that shot at his business, Eckhart Auto Body in Chatsworth. After Paul Thomas Anderson wrapped up his Valley-set, Adam Sandler-starring comedy Punch-Drunk Love (2002), Cardella got a call from Columbia Pictures that cemented the trajectory of his business as a fan destination.

Prior to striking the 35mm prints that were to go out to theaters, the studio noticed that the business name and phone number were prominent in exterior shots.

Cardella recalls being told, “We’ll guarantee you this: you’ll get phone calls, you’ll get visitors, they’ll be unannounced.” They asked if he wanted his business information painted out of the film, to which Cardella said no. “They said, ‘OK. We’re going to leave it the way it is. We’re going to mark down that you didn’t want to do this,’ kind of like, ‘Your funeral.’” Even if the free advertising didn’t send a single customer his way, he relished the idea of his business being cemented in film history.

“In 20 years I’ve had lots of phone calls, I’ve had lots of people come and visit, and I’ve given lots of tours, and people are thankful. They enjoy it,” he says.

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Eckhart Auto Body in Punch-Drunk Love

Columbia Pictures

Like Cardella, Intagliata gets a charge when fans of Wayne’s World visit Cassell’s Music, and while he’s never had a negative fan experience he understands the other side of the equation.

“I can see how if you own a house, like Marty McFly’s house or the Brady Bunch house, how that can be a big turn off,” he says.

For the sake of transparency, I lead filming location tours in the San Fernando Valley and Pasadena. On each tour I take guests to about 40 filming locations, some of which are heavily trafficked, others less so. Many of these locations are private residences. We don’t get off the bus at those locations and I’m very clear about never, ever, disturbing the residents. When you’re respectful of their privacy, the owners typically have no problem with you standing on the sidewalk to snap that Instagram photo, the one that you’ve been dying to get after your trek from the other side of town or the other side of the globe.

In an attempt to get a sense of the potential joys and/or burdens of owning an iconic movie or TV house, I mailed written letters to 24 homes that have appeared onscreen. I opted against knocking on front doors unannounced, an approach that seemed counterproductive for the basis of this article. I received only one response.

“Ironically, that’s how sick they [the owners] are of it,” location manager Robert Foulkes told me when I mentioned the letters.

Foulkes, the location manager of acclaimed films like La La Land (2016), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), and Ford v Ferrari (2019), says that prior to filming the Seth Rogen-Zac Efron comedy Neighbors (2014), he prepared the owners of the two houses on W. 20th Street in West Adams for the potential of fan traffic.

“I told them that these are big actors in a big, fun comedy that could be a real hit. You don’t have a gate. People might come and try to take pictures on your front lawn,” says Foulkes.

Neighbors
Neighbors

Universal Pictures

From 2010 to 2020, Dan Hakes lived in the 1905 Craftsman home that became the fraternity house in Neighbors. He doesn’t recall a discussion about fans appearing at his doorstep, but people eventually started showing up. He noticed a couple of people a month, never a busload, and he would happily engage with them if he happened to be in the front yard.

Hakes says, “I can see many points of view of why people would want to visit a filming location. Sometimes there’s a sense of history.”

Chris Carlson, who owns the house that became Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne’s house, says, “Frankly, as an owner of a historic home, if [appearing in a movie is] what gets people to pause and take some time to absorb the architecture, it’s maybe a backdoor into appreciating some of the historic architecture of Los Angeles.”

Similarly, a of house of worship’s onscreen appearance in a horror film might be an unorthodox path toward spirituality, suggests Father Michael Bamberger, the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Sierra Madre.

“I’m convinced that getting people who are perhaps un-churched, un-religious, or whatever, into a sacred space is never harmful,” says Bamberger. The storybook-like church from 1888 appeared in John Carpenter’s maritime ghost story, The Fog (1980). Bamberger has had generally good experiences with Carpenter fans from all over the world. “I’ve had people who return. They say, ‘I’d just like to sit here, if it’s OK.’”

the fog
The Fog

AVCO Embassy Pictures

Episcopal Church of the Ascension
Episcopal Church of the Ascension

Jared Cowan

Bamberger has had some problems with brash tour guides becoming upset when showing up unannounced.

“They feel entitled even though the church is not open, and it causes gnashing of teeth when they can’t come in because there’s nobody around, or it’s inconvenient for somebody to come and open up,” says Bamberger.

When you grow up watching a film or a TV show religiously, an overwhelming sense of ownership can take hold, and that false sense of privilege can ruin the joys of a filming location for everybody.

Entitlement may have been what led to a Daily Mail article from July of 2015 about the owner of the McFly house from Back to the Future. Built in 1954 in the San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Arleta, it’s not all that different from other tract homes on the street; it was chosen because of the high-tension transmission towers located directly behind it.

The house has had its fair share of aggravation over the years, as the article states. People have asked to see inside; property has been stolen from the yard; fans have wanted to recreate the scene when Doc drives the time machine into a cluster of trashcans in the driveway.

back to the future
Marty McFly’s house in Back to the Future

Universal Pictures

The article describes a fed up owner who wishes she never agreed to let her home appear in the film. But 36 years ago, who could have predicted the gargantuan success of Back to the Future?

It wasn’t until the film’s 30th anniversary that the fanbase really came together. Over five days in October of 2015, Back to the Future aficionados from all over the world assembled in L.A. for We’re Going Back, a massive fan gathering that set many of its immersive experiences at the original filming locations. One such event was a block party on the street where the McFly House is located for which a replica time machine and a 1985 Toyota 4×4 were situated in the driveway of the house. Fans and neighbors joined together to marvel at this nostalgic recreation while a small security team made sure no one stepped on the property.

We’re Going Back took place three months after the negative Daily Mail article, so how unreceptive could the owner really be to allow such an event? (And yes, it’s the same owner. The house hasn’t changed hands since the mid-‘80s.) I sent letters to both the owner of the McFly house and a neighbor who is quoted in the Daily Mail article. I received no responses.

back to the future
Fans and neighbors gather at the McFly house on Roslyndale Avenue in 2015

Jared Cowan

When Back to the Future Part III was released in 1990, there wasn’t much of a World Wide Web to disseminate the address of the McFly house. But it calls into question the potential hurdles of reusing an often-trafficked location for a sequel.

The 1913 Colonial Revival in Pasadena from Father of the Bride (1991) became a pop-culture touchtone in the years following the film’s release, and it remains one of the most written about and visited movie houses in L.A.

“Back in the day, we never published where the house was,” says Dallago. “It was just one of those things that people knew. People would stumble across it or seek it out,” he adds. “I don’t think we thought that the house would ever become iconic.”

father of the bride
Rick Dallago at the Father of the Bride house with fake dormer windows

Courtesy Rick Dallago

It was critical that it appear in the 1995 sequel, being that a major plot point involved George Banks (Steve Martin) selling off the family home. The family that owned it when the first movie was filed was still living there when Dallago inquired about using the house again. By this point, the owners had experienced a few years of fans slowing down their cars to take photos or walking around the front yard.

“I didn’t know if them being harassed by people knocking on the door or taking pictures of the house all the time would have an impact on them wanting to be involved in the sequel,” says Dallago. It didn’t discourage them. “Those owners kind of liked it, in a weird way. I think they liked the notoriety. I think it helped them with the resale, also.”

All the neighbors on El Molino Drive also signed on for the sequel, but the filmmakers of one of the most celebrated horror franchises ever made didn’t have the same luck in Hollywood as the series progressed.

Prolific television director Rachel Talalay was an assistant production manager and uncredited location manager on Wes Craven’s horror game changer, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).

“The assignment was to find these two Ohio-looking houses on an Ohio-looking street,” says Talalay. Pasadena and South Pasadena proved too expensive for the low-budget production, so Talalay turned to Genesee Avenue in Hollywood where she found the house for the film’s heroine, Nancy.

“The whole street is really pretty, a lot of Craftsman houses, a lot of trees, but no palm trees. It doesn’t look at all like L.A.,” says producer Sara Risher. “When Wes saw that he thought it was perfect.”

Risher was involved in almost all of the original Nightmare films and recalls there being a point early in the franchise when the owners of Nancy’s house no longer welcomed the production.

nightmare on elm street
Nancy’s house from A Nightmare on Elm Street

New Line Cinema

“On Nightmare 3 we found an empty lot and built a façade for the house,” says Talalay, who worked on the first four Nightmare films in various producing capacities before returning to write and direct Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991). She recalls that the resistance from the homeowners was due to the inconvenience of filming more so than the public attention.

Risher, however, says that people started recognizing and visiting Nancy’s house upon the original film’s release.

“It’s very accessible. It’s just off Sunset, so it’s easy to find,” says Risher.

But as horror fandom and social media spread, the location became a must-see destination for Freddy fans.

“There’s a lot of mythology around horror and the Nightmare house, and its ability to be the essence of evil and to transform itself into Freddy’s nightmare. I think that holds a much stronger image in the imagination [than a regular drama],” says Talalay.

“Every owner paints the door a different color to try and discourage people from recognizing it,” says Risher. In the original film the front door is blue; today it’s red, as it appears in Nightmare 2.

Tom MacDonald, the location manager of the Pink Motel in Sun Valley, tells me that social media has had a mostly negative impact on the property.

“It’s a full time job just trying to run people off,” says MacDonald, who’s worked at the Pink Motel for 22 years.

The classic roadside motor lodge on San Fernando Road opened in 1946. The motel closed about ten years ago, though there are a few tenants still living there. Its companion diner the Pink Café was later renamed Cadillac Jack’s, which closed as a working restaurant in 1989-1990. Today, the property has nine different sets and is used almost exclusively as a filming location. It’s been seen in recent movies and TV shows like Drive (2011), Get Shorty (2018), Honey Boy (2019), and Westworld (2020).

pink motel
The Pink Motel

Jared Cowan

The driveways of the Pink Motel are coned off and other areas are chained. “No photography” and “no trespassing” signs posted around the property are often ignored at all hours of the day and night. If it’s a holiday weekend, multiple carloads of people will show up.

“I go out there and I ask if there’s something I can help them with, and they want to get rude with you,” says MacDonald. “They’ll tell you, ‘No, you can’t help me,’ and then they’ll walk by you going off into some area of the property. I say, ‘Let me rephrase this: you’re on my property. Is there something I can help you with?’”

Confrontations aren’t limited to verbal exchanges. MacDonald was once stabbed under his eye by an irate trespasser. He now carries around a small canister of mace and has been forced to use it a couple of times.

pink motel
The Pink Motel

Jared Cowan

Though interactions with unannounced visitors have been mostly negative, MacDonald says that there are some good people out there who are respectful of the property. Whether they’re local or visiting from out of the country, he’ll give a little tour of the Pink Motel to those who are polite.

When it comes to fan interactions, there’s one heavily trafficked movie house in L.A. that is something of an anomaly. Resting on a chair on the front porch this South Pasadena home are a few prop pumpkins. Next to them is a framed series of images of Jamie Lee Curtis sitting outside the house, holding a pumpkin in her lap. A typed note reads OK to use pumpkins to take pictures – Sit like Jamie Lee Curtis – Please return pumpkins.

Bianca Richards was the only person who responded to my letters. She and her husband have owned Laurie Strode’s house from Halloween (1978) since 1984. When they moved in, they weren’t aware of their house’s filmic connection to John Carpenter’s masked serial killer Michael Myers.

“Fans actually told us about the house,” says Richards, who is a South Pasadena native. “We had no idea. It was so embarrassing.”

After renting Halloween from her local video store, Richards embraced the cinematic lore of the house and she created the photo op for the film’s devotees.

“The fans absolutely got a kick out of it, loved it, and they were so excited and appreciative, and they were just truly very pleasant fans,” says Richards. “They thank me profusely.”

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Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween

Compass International Pictures

strode house
The Strode house

Jared Cowan

The pumpkins have been stolen six or seven times says Richards, but she firmly believes that the culprits aren’t Halloween fans. As word about the stolen pumpkins spread on social media, Richards received small donations to replace them.

Richards is ahead of the curve in that her typed invitation to fans immediately cancels out almost any temptation to violate her privacy. People have knocked on her door only a couple of times.

eckhart auto
Punch-Drunk Love screening at Eckhart Auto Body on July 10, 2021

Jared Cowan

Back in Chatsworth, Cardella recently lent out the parking lot of Eckahrt Auto Body for a sold-out screening of Punch-Drunk Love. One hundred people showed up, including a couple from Chicago who flew out just for the show.

Welcoming strangers into an auto body shop certainly holds a different dynamic than a homeowner not wanting an address published in an article. Still, Cardella’s is a business that doesn’t inherently lend itself to the revolving door of foot traffic that is characteristic of a retail location like Cassell’s Music. Fans of Anderson’s offbeat romantic comedy will usually stand on the sidewalk on Canoga Avenue, hesitant of stepping on the property. When Cardella offers them a tour they’re taken aback at the kindness being extended.

“Once you offer it, it takes all the angst away,” says Cardella. “I never thought of it as a bother; I thought of it as an opportunity to share. … You might change somebody’s life, who knows.”

Follow Jared on Twitter at @JaredCowan1.


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