Dwayne Johnson’s earthquake movie San Andreas filmed Queensland in Australia as California. The drama follows Johnson as a helicopter pilot trying to rescue his estranged daughter after an earthquake and tsunami devastate the West Coast.
Filming was in fact based at Village Roadshow Studios in Queensland, with the shoot taking advantage of Australia’s more generous national and regional filming incentive programmes. Pre-production started in February 2014 and the shoot wrapped seven months later.
“Queensland was chosen for the ability to shoot 95% of the film in the same place,” explains Location Manager Gareth Price: “South-east Queensland had just the right mix of both urban and country looks. All the locations chosen matched specific Californian looks.”
The production team made extensive use of the studio’s water tank facilities for scenes set in the aftermath of a tsunami that wipes out San Francisco Bay.
“The biggest challenge was the several exterior sets around the site,” comments Lynne Benzie, President of Village Roadshow Studios: “We accommodated their requests by closing off part of the studios for that specific set build, while not affecting other productions on site.”
Village Roadshow Studios also hosted Angelina Jolie’s Second World War biopic Unbroken. In early 2015, Disney brought Pirates of the Caribbean 5 to the studio and became the biggest production ever to film in Australia.
Key scenes for San Andreas were also filmed on location in San Francisco. But while the full production process in the city took some eight months, this was mostly precision planning for only around three weeks of actual filming, including plate shots for visual effects.
Queensland was chosen for the ability to shoot 95% of the film in the same place.
Gareth Price, Location Manager
The prep time was spent plotting the path of the tsunami sequence – triggered in the story by the enormous earthquake – and following its impact on the city and characters.
Location Manager Jonathan Shedd spent several months scouting San Francisco with input from all the key production departments.
“The locations choices for the tsunami scenes were mainly to capture the best and most iconic San Francisco views we could find,” Shedd explains: “Many of them were from along the shoreline of San Francisco or from higher vantage points that looked back.
“The locations for the scenes with Blake (Alexandra Daddario as Johnson’s daughter) and the other younger characters were decided on by charting an escape route that these kids take through the city that made real logical sense. Then we scouted this established route and found the best and most scenic points along the way to film the various scenes as the story progresses.”
Physical destruction set dressing – damaged vehicles, fallen rubble and collapsed telephone poles – was lined for a radius of 100 feet around this escape route. Visual effects work was used for wider shots.
The San Francisco Film Commission is hoping to attract more big-budget productions for longer local shooting schedules.
Producers can get limited local support through the Scene in San Francisco Rebate Programme, which offers up to USD 600,000 for shoots with budgets less than USD 3 million. California’s boosted state-wide filming incentive will be more relevant to studio productions on the scale of San Andreas.
“We are hoping that the 5% uplift to productions which shoot outside the LA zone will result in more productions basing in San Francisco, rather than shooting a handful of days of beauty shots,” comments Susannah Greason Robbins, executive director of the San Francisco Film Commission.
The locations choices for the tsunami scenes were mainly to capture the best and most iconic San Francisco views we could find.
Jonathan Shedd, Location Manager
Robbins also believes California’s boosted incentive will help San Francisco compete with Louisiana. Over the past few years the southern state has offered a far more generous filming incentive than California and New Orleans has doubled for San Francisco in several recent studio shoots including Terminator Genisys and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Louisiana is, however, facing reforms to its filming incentive. These are likely to include, for the first time, an annual cap and restrictions on per-production payments. The result could mean more business for California.
(Images: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Entertainment/WV Films IV/Ratpac-Dune Entertainment)