Although the Palos Verdes Peninsula is far from the jungles of Vietnam, the South Coast Botanic Garden served as a sufficient stand-in Friday as the television show Criminal Minds filmed Vietnam War-era scenes for an upcoming episode.
A crew of more than 100 utilized a tropical-looking area of the gardens to shoot scenes that will tell the back-story of one of the show's characters. Simulated gunfire and explosions added a realness to the set.
"To get the scope that we wanted, South Coast was always our number one option," said Walt Roshetski, the show's veteran location manager. "We had to go to a place that could obviously double for Vietnam and at the same time allow us to do these unique situations."
But just as the South Coast Botanic Garden is a sanctuary for nature lovers, flower enthusiasts and hikers, it is also a safe haven for filmmakers in a city that Roshetski said is hostile to filming of any type.
Because the botanic garden is maintained by Los Angeles County and does not fall within any Palos Verdes city limits, filmmakers can work with the county, rather than the cities on the hill, to obtain film permits. By going this route, production crews are also subject to fewer restrictions as they work at the botanic garden.
"Palos Verdes is not an easy city to deal with, however, the South Coast Botanic Garden is kind of an entity to itself," said Roshetski, who has worked as a location scout for more than 20 years. "Unfortunately, the city of Palos Verdes is not a city that is receptive to filming in any way, shape or form... I am not a fan of theirs, and I am sure they are not a fan of mine."
Unlike the cities on the Palos Verdes Peninsula though, the South Coast Botanic Garden is more than happy to rent its grounds to productions in order to offset the lower attendance and ticket sales it sees on weekdays.
"It is good for us, especially during the week," said Stuart Fasoli, the grounds maintenance supervisor for the garden. "It also keeps it local and it's good for the local economy," he added.
Fasoli estimates that he meets with location scouts at least two or three times per week and at least one film crew utilizes the garden's grounds each month. Television hits such as CSI Miami and Dexter have all used the grounds as a stand-in for south Florida, where both shows are set.
In addition to the revenue gained from filming permits, Roshetski said there is a secondary benefit to the community when large production crews spend money at local businesses and restaurants. But, he said that financial impact could be potentially greater for Palos Verdes.
"It is limited right now, only because the city's unwillingness to participate," said Roshetski. "If (the city) was just a little receptive, I think it would help not just the botanic garden, but the whole community," he added.
In August, the Los Angeles Times reported that less than 10 percent of new network television dramas in 2012 were being filmed in Los Angeles -- down from 80 percent in 2005. As other states offer friendlier atmospheres for filming, Roshetski said many shows choose to leave the area.
"When you have communities that are saying no to filming, then what do you think is going to happen? One day, we are going to say 'fine, we won't go there, the show can go away all together; the show can go to other states,'" said Roshetski.
However, Roshetski said that for now, he is proud that Criminal Minds has stayed in Los Angeles and utilized areas such as the South Coast Botanic Gardens to give an authentic look to the show.
"We don't go out to Georgia; we don't go out to New York... We stay right here in L.A.," he said. "We are an example of how to utilize so much of the Southern California area."
Criminal Minds starts its eighth season this month and follows an elite team of criminal profilers from the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. Friday's scenes shot in Palos Verdes will air on November 19 on CBS.