Photo by Tina Whatcott Echeverria
Courtesy of Andrew Cooper/Sony Pictures
Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in a scene from Quentin Tarantino’s new film, in theaters July 26, 2019.
A production designer from Quentin Tarantino’s crew shares what it took to bring 1960s Hollywood back to the big screen—plus a few of the real-life locations where scenes from the film were staged.
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Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood is primed to evoke a spectrum of emotions from audiences. Among them, bittersweetness: The wait is over for Tarantino acolytes, who haven’t had a new movie to dissect since 2015’s The Hateful Eight (sweet). But it’s also a reminder that this is the Oscar-winning auteur’s penultimate film, since Tarantino announced his plans to retire after making his 10th movie (bitter).
Set in 1969 at the height of Los Angeles’s halcyon hippie days, Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood tells the story of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an actor coming to terms with his declining career in a movie industry transitioning to a new era from the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and Cliff Booth, Dalton’s stunt double and closest pal (Brad Pitt). Soon, hot shot director Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha) and his girlfriend Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) move in next door and they end up colliding with a dark figure in the cultural landscape of late 1960s Los Angeles: Charles Manson.
Every shot in the movie vibrates with verisimilitude because of Tarantino’s penchant for tangible, historically accurate sets. The filmmaker’s directive to his crew? Turn Los Angeles now into Los Angeles then—without the help of digital technology. “He was not interested in going the CGI route. He is very much in love with seeing original things brought back,” says Once Upon a Time’s production designer Barbara Ling (who is a native Angeleno). “That was unbelievably exciting: the idea of having this moment in time come back in a three-dimensional world. Then it was figuring out how we could actually do it.”
Doing it required months of collaboration with city planners and various business owners, not to mention an army of set decorators and construction crews. “When everything was in place, and the period cars came in, and night was falling, and all the neon went on,” Ling says, “it was this moment of breathtaking transportation.” Here, Ling shares the lowdown on a handful of Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood filming locations that served as film sets and remain real establishments you can visit in Los Angeles to revel in ’60s glory.
6667 Hollywood Blvd.
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Hollywood’s oldest restaurant, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this September, hasn’t changed a bit since its days as the steakhouse of choice for celebrities like Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway. (Seriously, its red-leather banquettes, wood grill, and cigar smoke–stained wallpaper hail from 1934.) Ling’s crew spent days filming inside of Musso & Frank Grill—look for it in the scene where Dalton meets up with a smarmy Hollywood agent (Al Pacino). “I don’t think we could’ve filmed in Musso’s as long as we did if it wasn’t for Quentin,” Ling says. “They love him because he goes on a daily basis. They said, ‘We’re going to bring out the original plates.’ They were so into it. The beauty of Musso’s is that they’ve tried to stay as unchanged as possible, and it was great to give them that glory.” Book a table and indulge in dinner specials like grenadine of beef and Welsh rarebit, or grab a seat at the bar and let the bartender make you one of Musso’s legendary martinis (stirred, not shaken).
6656 Hollywood Blvd.
Swing by what was once L.A.’s most famous adult film theater and today you’ll see Hologram USA, where holographic projections of celebrities like Billie Holiday sporadically perform. To re-create the Pussycat for scenes from Tarantino’s film, Ling and her team covered the building’s current LED signage and reattached the theater’s iconic logo to its front. “We literally [re]built the entire facade of the Pussycat: the letters, the neon, everything,” Ling says, adding that the lettering on every marquee in the film, from the Pussycat to the Pantages to the Vogue, is historically accurate, too. “Quentin wanted [to display] exactly what was playing on that date at that time on all of the marquees, so we did it,” Ling adds. “It was all real.” You won’t see any X-rated content at the theater today, but if you’re lucky, you may be able to catch a hologram performing the hits. Check Hologram USA’s website for showtimes before stopping in.
6644 and 6666 Hollywood Blvd.
This long-standing cinema and theater-related bookshop is still slinging movie posters, scripts, and other paraphernalia out of its original space on Hollywood Boulevard, but it looks a little different today than it did in 1969. To restore the Larry Edmunds Bookshop to its former state for scenes in Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood, Ling reproduced the original storefront sign and tracked down period-appropriate merchandise. “We re-created the facade, where they had books in the window,” Ling says. “We bought books from that era and had some of the covers remade.” Pop into the used bookstore during regular hours, take in 70 years of history, and then take home a souvenir.
7312 Beverly Blvd.
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When Tarantino needed a filming location for a group dinner scene, he landed on El Coyote Café, an old-school Mexican cantina that opened in 1931—and the restaurant where Sharon Tate ate her last meal before she was murdered by the Manson family. Like Musso & Frank, Ling didn’t have to do much to help El Coyote look the part. “We had to change some of the interior,” Ling says. “We put some of the original arches back, and there was a phone booth that used to be in the corner of the parking lot, so we put that back in.” Otherwise, El Coyote as it exists today remains largely unchanged. (If you stop by for dinner and want to pay your respects, you can even ask the restaurant staff to see the booth where Sharon Tate sat.)
6360 Sunset Blvd.
Sunset Boulevard’s Cinerama Dome, designed by the prolific architect Welton Becket and stylistically inspired by America’s obsession with the Space Race, is the only geodesic dome movie theater in the world. To Ling’s delight, it was never torn down—rebuilding such a structure would’ve added an astronomical cost to the movie’s already-astronomical tab (the entire project cost $90 million). “We filmed one of the big premiere scenes there—again, a premiere on the exact date—of Krakatoa,” Ling says. (In case you were wondering, that particular film was released on January 1, 1969.) The Dome, which was built in 1963 and restored in 2002, is now part of ArcLight Cinemas Hollywood and offers regular showings of box office films.
961 Broxton Ave. (Fox Village Theater); 948 Broxton Ave. (Regency Bruin Theater)
A stretch of Westwood (the neighborhood in which UCLA is located) was a mini movie mecca in its heyday thanks to the Fox and Bruin theaters. To accurately depict the Westwood landmarks, Ling and her team not only restored the theaters and their marquees—but also the storefronts around them. “The Taco Bell next to the Bruin used to be the famous Hamburger Hamlet, iconic with its big stripes and awnings,” Ling says. “When we put those up on the front of the building, people immediately started coming in. They’d zoom right by us and walk in the front door, then be like, ‘Oh, no, this isn’t. . . ’ People were so excited that the Hamburger Hamlet was back.” The Hamburger Hamlet may be gone, but Westwood’s historic cinemas remain—and still host movie showings and red-carpet premieres to this day.
10948 Weyburn Ave.
Another long-standing Westwood spot that got a full makeover as a Once Upon a Time film set was Stan’s Donuts, a no-frills bakery across the street from the Bruin that’s been around since 1962. “My researcher found one picture [of the original eatery], and we re-created the entire shop with striped awnings, all of the original signage, the Vienna Dog signs,” Ling says. “The founder, Stan Berman, is still alive. He’s 91 years old. They brought him out to see it, and he just started crying. He said, ‘Oh, my God. It’s like the day I opened it.’” According to Ling, Stan “has kept most of the decor up.” Stop by the Westwood corner store and see for yourself—and don’t leave without a peanut butter and banana doughnut.
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