Hollywood Dreaming: A Location Scout’s Guide to La La Land

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dance at Cathy’s Corner in a famous scene from ‘La La Land’ (2016)
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dance at Cathy’s Corner in a famous scene from ‘La La Land’ (2016) | © Photo by Dale Robinette/Black Label Media/Kobal/Shutterstock
For many film fans, hunting down movie locations in Los Angeles is the ultimate fantasy, but for Tristan Daoussis this passion has become a working reality. Culture Trip speaks to the man who helped bring La La Land to the big screen to find out more about working in Tinseltown.

“When our location team receives a script,” Daoussis says when asked about the role of a location manager, “the first thing we do is read it and break it down. We speak with the producers and figure out what is going to be filmed on a stage and what is going to be filmed on location.” Having worked on projects as varied as Mad Men (2007-15), A Single Man (2009) and Ad Astra (2019), Daoussis knows exactly what film-loving visitors to LA should do when they arrive.

Daoussis sits at Sarita’s Pupuseria in downtown’s Grand Central Market © Brad Torchia / Culture Trip

The highs and lows of working in Los Angeles

Away from the glamorous side of the job, there are obviously a number of technical issues to deal with, such as securing the requisite permits, finding space for film crews to operate in and – “most importantly,” according to Daoussis – “restrooms!”

Having worked with his mentor Robert Foulkes for a number of years, and having been involved in an amazing variety of projects, Daoussis finds it hard to choose highlights – but two very different films stand out.

A bit of old-school Hollywood glamour catches the slanting rays of the sun © Brad Torchia / Culture Trip

“Standing on top of the 110 freeway outside Downtown Los Angeles watching a group of people dance around their vehicles in La La Land” (2016) is one such highlight. Another special moment for Daoussis was standing over three separate racetracks in the summer of 2018, watching race cars from the 1960s drive at top speeds around the track. “I have to stop myself sometimes when I start to complain, as I really have an incredibly cool job,” he adds.

The latter film is Ford v Ferrari (known in the UK as Le Mans ’66) which was released in late 2019. “A lot of scenes from the film were shot at racetracks or airports, and our art department added signage to make the locations look believable as if it was in the 1960s.” The rapidly changing architecture of Los Angeles is one ongoing challenge that all location scouts and managers face in the city.

“There is a lot of new development, and some of the older architecture is going away,” Daoussis says. “I do a lot of period television and film, so this can be a challenge. The one nice thing is if you venture out, there are some really neat pockets of the city that haven’t been developed yet and haven’t had much filming. I love nothing more than to find and film at a location that hasn’t had filming yet.”

‘La La Land’ and the city of stars

Damien Chazelle’s bittersweet musical romance La La Land has come to define the city since its release in 2016. The film is very specifically set in Los Angeles, and for Daoussis it simply had to be shot on location. As well as the opening freeway sequence mentioned previously, the other memorable location for people who worked on the film is Griffith Park and the Observatory.

For one of the rapid-fire vignettes we see throughout the film, stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are seen falling in love with each other, and with LA. These locations were relatively easy to source, as Daoussis has been frequenting them in a personal capacity ever since he first moved to LA in 1987.

Musso & Frank Grill has been a Hollywood favorite since it opened over 100 years ago © Brad Torchia / Culture Trip

“I really loved working with the Los Angeles Park Film Office for the filming on Mount Hollywood Drive at ‘Cathy’s Corner’. One of the scouts on our team, Steve Beimler, found this location, and I was fortunate to be able to oversee it through a half-dozen cast rehearsals to the actual filming of the scene with Ryan and Emma. The famous one-sheet poster was created from their dance at this location.”

The hillside location, now a favourite with tourists, was one of many featured in the movie. Another place that Daoussis picks out, when fans ask where they can re-create some of the film’s famous scenes, is one of LA’s best-known eateries.

“I also loved being able to film at the Smokehouse in Burbank. I had wanted to film this location on Mad Men, but we ended up at Musso & Frank [which also recently featured in Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood]. The Smokehouse is amazing, and if anyone is in Burbank, you have to stop in to try their famous garlic bread.”

The best film locations in Los Angeles

Given his job title and the city in which he works, Daoussis must be asked to pick out his top tips on a regular basis. Fortunately, for anyone looking to visit LA anytime soon, we’ve already found out some must-see landmarks, straight from the ultimate expert.

Grand Central Market is “a great place for lunch or to grab a quick snack” and is also opposite Angels Flight in Downtown LA. Both locations featured in La La Land and have been seen in a number of other movies over the decades. Even for those with just a passing interest in LA history, this is one of the best areas to head to, as it is also where you can find the Bradbury Building, immortalized in Blade Runner (1982).

Belcampo restaurant in Grand Central Market is popular with locals and tourists alike © Brad Torchia / Culture Trip

A great double-header is going to see the LA Dodgers after getting a pre-game meal at Philippe’s, “the home of the original French dipped sandwich”. This routine is something of a tradition for local baseball fans, and even if you can’t get into a game, it’s worth taking a stadium tour to soak up the atmosphere.

Another must is a trip to Union Station, which is seen by many as a gateway to LA, as well as a symbol of the rejuvenation of the downtown area.

Renting a car is one recommendation from Daoussis that makes practical sense and comes with a final piece of advice. “Los Angeles is a large, sprawling city with lots to see. Go to Hollywood and take a tour, look around, but most importantly, do some research online and go to see some sights of your own favourite TV shows or films.”

To find out more about LA’s vibrant food scene, check out the latest updates on Discover Los Angeles.