The 2017 HBO series “Big Little Lies” turned international attention to Monterey County, as dramatic local landscapes shared a starring role with dynamic, Emmy-winning cast members. With Meryl Streep joining that cast and plans for season two in full swing, the series continues generating serious buzz.
Karen Nordstrand of the Monterey County Film Commission (MCFC) remembers when Los Angeles location manager Gregory Alpert first called and floated the possibility of HBO film crews coming to the region. She helped with initial site scouting before a dedicated team took over, and she wasn’t surprised when producers extended their Monterey County stay.
“They fell in love with the area,” Nordstrand says. “At first, they were just going to do one week here. But after they returned to L.A., they decided to come back for another three weeks of filming at various locations.”
Nordstrand started as a volunteer with the MCFC 28 years ago, later serving as the nonprofit’s executive director before moving into her current film commissioner role. One of just 60 professionals worldwide to achieve certified film commissioner status with the Association of Film Commissioners International, she works with a part-time colleague and volunteer board of directors to direct marketing campaigns that promote the region’s production-friendly attributes. She also helps crews working on television shows, movies, music videos, fashion shoots and commercial projects find their perfect Monterey County settings.
Such projects have generated more than $106 million in economic impact since the Monterey County Board of Supervisors established the MCFC in 1987. The first season of “Big Little Lies” resulted in $2.5 million of local spending alone—plus plenty of additional tourism dollars, as fans flock to sites that appeared in the show.
“It’s hard to track the exact value of the spinoff tourism, but if you look on social media, you’ll see people posting selfies at Fisherman’s Wharf and on the beach and in front of Monterey City Hall,” Nordstrand says.
In addition to providing free planning services to location scouts, Nordstrand oversees educational programs, movie screenings and events that link area residents with the film industry. During the commission’s Focus on Film and Reel Jobs seminars, screenwriters, producers, animators and other film professionals share perspective on the business. Hollywood in Your Backyard gatherings offer additional in-person networking opportunities. The organization’s annual scholarships support film students and beginning filmmakers who live or study in Monterey County.
The MCFC also created the Monterey County Movie Map, now in its second edition, to spotlight scenes from some of the more than 200 films shot locally. Like “Big Little Lies” and “Mad Men,” which filmed a series finale segment in Big Sur, various productions play up their Monterey County locations. In other cases, local settings double for distant destinations.
Miley Cyrus, for example, shot the video for her 2017 release “Malibu” on the beach at Garrapata State Park. Fort Hunter Liggett served as Vietnam’s Central Highlands in the 2002 Mel Gibson-Greg Kinnear drama “We Were Soldiers.” Local coastline stood in for Stinson Beach in the 1992 thriller “Basic Instinct,” while a private Pacific Grove home doubled as a Maine hotel in “A Summer Place.” The 1959 romance starred Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee. When a young Elizabeth Taylor rode her horse across the English countryside in the 1944 film “National Velvet,” the cameras really followed her on fairways of the Pebble Beach Golf Links.
This unique combination of versatility and striking natural beauty keeps crews coming back to Monterey County.
“We certainly get a lot of calls for that Big Sur essence, with the wide-open, dramatic coastline, but there’s not just one look here,” Nordstrand says. “We also have the Steinbeck Country locations, for example, with ranches, cows and everything else that might be part of a script.”
“We have these incredible scenic settings that are just so perfect for movies,” agrees Monterey Movie Tours founder Doug Lumsden, a past MCFC board member who regularly works with the organization. He calls the commission “an extension of the studio.”
“The impact of the Monterey County Film Commission is huge. Producers want to work in places with great scenery and great opportunities, and Karen and her team make it convenient for teams to film here,” Lumsden says.
As she connects film crews with that ideal stretch of coastline, historic structure, pastoral setting or private home, Nordstrand also links locals to economic opportunities. She encourages area residents to contact the Monterey County Film Commission with potential shooting locations, to alert her team to their film crew expertise, and to watch the MCFC website for casting calls.
“Filmmaking is a good, clean industry that capitalizes on Monterey County’s scenic beauty, while creating jobs for people who live here,” she says. “It really is a perfect fit.”
For more information on on MCFC, please visit www.filmmonterey.org.
Monterey Movie Tour Showcases Filmmaking Locations
As the second season of HBO’s “Big Little Lies” approaches, Doug Lumsden of Monterey Movie Tours has noticed an uptick in inquiries about the series. The interest reminds him of decades past, when stars like Troy Donahue, Ryan O’Neal and Joey Heatherton regularly made movies in Monterey County.
“It has just been fantastic. We’ve got that magic back,” says Lumsden, who grew up in the area and remembers sneaking behind the scenes as crews filmed flicks like “The Big Bounce” and “My Blood Runs Cold.”
That fascination with the big screen stayed with him, and Lumsden eventually saw an opportunity to explore the region’s movie connections. A few years after launching his original Monterey Peninsula scenic tour in 1999, he was commissioned to create a one-time excursion commemorating the 30th anniversary of “Play Misty for Me.”
“During that anniversary tour, I saw just how excited people got about the movie connections,” he remembers.
The reaction inspired Lumsden to retool his tour vehicle, acquire the licensing for various film clips, and introduce the Monterey Movie Tour. Nearly 15 years later, the outing continues to welcome guests on a three-hour excursion that showcases several peninsula cities and makes three stops along the 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach. As they learn about the area’s history, culture and landscapes, guests also watch scenes from some of the more than 200 movies filmed in Monterey County.
Like the region it spotlights, the movie tour is constantly evolving. When high-profiles film projects take place locally, for example, the Monterey County Film Commission often shares updates so that Lumsden can incorporate information into his tour.
“Doug’s interest in local movie history makes him a wonderful partner for us. He does a great job of showcasing the area, and he’s just an engaging, enthusiastic promotor of all things filmed in Monterey County,” says film commissioner Karen Nordstrand.
Lumsden finds joy in sharing the region’s cinematic stories with guests.
“Movies elicit such a response. I get this all the time—someone will come up to me and say, ‘You’re taking me back to this moment in time when I watched this movie and I loved it, and now I finally got to see where that scene was filmed…’ You’re just bringing back those memories,” he says. “It’s so wonderful, and so fulfilling, to have a job that makes people happy.”
For Monterey Movie Tours reservations, visit montereymovietours.com.