In 2016, Disney’s hugely-anticipated adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time was caught in a kind of geographic limbo. Though the production had applied for a tax credit through the California Film Commission, the incentive was far from guaranteed, leaving director Ava DuVernay and company no choice but to scout locations elsewhere.
“Had they not gotten the tax credit, it would have been filmed in Atlanta,” says A Wrinkle in Time location manager Alison Taylor, whose impressive list of credits includes Straight Outta Compton, Alias, and Training Day.
But the credit did come through, to the tune of $18.1 million—the largest amount ever awarded at the time.
“I remember the day when they came and said, ‘We got the tax incentive!’” says Taylor, who lives in LA’s Jefferson Park neighborhood. “Everybody was cheering.”
Los Angeles may be the epicenter of the film and TV industry, but very few major Hollywood features actually shoot here, lured away by hefty incentives in places like Georgia, Canada, and the U.K. Until recently, films with budgets of over $75 million weren’t even eligible for the California program.
But that all changed in 2015, when Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation to vastly increase the amount of available tax credits from $100 million to $330 million annually— thereby opening the door to blockbuster productions like Wrinkle.
Though parts of A Wrinkle in Time were shot in northern California and New Zealand, LA was the main base of operations. In addition to filming extensively on sound stages in Santa Clarita, DuVernay and crew took advantage of locations including San Pedro, Little Tokyo, and—perhaps most notably—South LA, an area of the city that’s long been underrepresented onscreen.
“Ava DuVernay picked that area,” says Taylor, who is herself notable for being a woman of color in a profession dominated by white men. “In her mind, when she decided who the family was, and that they were this mixed-race family and the parents were scientists, she said, ‘It would be great if they could live in the West Adams area.’ It means a lot historically for black people… professionals and artists, black artists, used to live in the West Adams area in those big old Craftsmans.”
The film’s South LA locations are a reflection of DuVernay’s inclusive vision for the production, which she purposely stacked with women and people of color both in front of and behind the camera. Indeed, the historically black neighborhood is a presence onscreen.
With A Wrinkle in Time hitting theaters, we spoke with Taylor about how she helped DuVernay realize her diverse, open-hearted feat of world-building via the film’s Southland locations.
Location: 2523 Fourth Avenue (main house), 1927 South Oxford Avenue (Meg’s bedroom)
Two houses located just blocks apart stood in for the home that Meg Murray (Storm Reid) shares with her parents (Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Chris Pine) and little brother Charles (Deric McCabe). The first, a restored Craftsman in Jefferson Park built in 1922, played host to the family’s main living quarters.
“We looked at a million houses over there,” says Taylor of the house, which is located on a hefty 10,500 square foot lot. “There was a specific energy of how the Murrays lived, and sort of a geography of the house for the scenes to play.”
Unfortunately, the first house lacked a key location: Meg’s attic bedroom. For that, Taylor found a home just up the road in Harvard Heights with a third-story bedroom that offered the exact feel DuVernay needed for the “dark and stormy” opening scene.
The “Mrs. Ws” house
Location: 2153 W. 30th Street
Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling’s colorful trio of astral travelers—Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who, respectively—live just down the road from Meg in this quaint Jefferson Park bungalow. “They’re still 100 year old Craftsman [houses], but they’re more the bungalow type, the one story,” says Taylor, who notes that they also filmed extensively on the street outside. “It just sort of represents the neighborhood and energy that Ava was trying to project.”
Location: Crenshaw High School
Compared to oft-filmed LA-area schools like John Marshall and Venice, Crenshaw High isn’t exactly a Hollywood player. But the campus proved ideal for a couple of reasons, firstly because it was a visual match. “We looked at a lot of schools, but we made a point to look at them in the same Central LA, South LA area because the neighborhood needed to still match,” says Taylor.
Second, lower attendance had left an entire section of the campus empty, allowing DuVernay and co. to film during normal school hours without inconveniencing staff and students. And for 14 lucky pupils enrolled in the school’s Visual and Performing Arts magnet program, the visiting production was an opportunity to learn more about the day-to-day operations of a Hollywood film set.
“We did a little shadowing program with them,” says Taylor of the students. “So they got to come follow around and see what the production was doing, and they met all the department heads… that one I was really proud of because we really got to expose those kids to all the various jobs in the industry.”
NASA conference room
Location:Japanese American National Museum
Meg’s physicist parents make their poorly-received “tessering” presentation in a NASA auditorium, but the scene was actually filmed inside the Tateuchi Democracy Forum at Little Tokyo’s Japanese American Museum. According to Taylor, it took awhile to find. “We scouted colleges, looking at everybody’s auditoriums,” she says. “[We were] trying to find a look that would look like a NASA space… as opposed to a college lecture hall.”
Location: Venice Beach
For the scene in which Red (Michael Peña) takes Meg, Charles, and Calvin (Levi Miller) on a sinister beach outing on the dark planet of Camazotz, the production opted to film on the sands of Venice—albeit a section far removed from the boardwalk crowds.
“We went to the north end of the beach just across the border from Santa Monica,” says Taylor of shooting the scene, which in her estimation employed “300 to 400” extras. “So we tried to be a little bit of a ways [from the boardwalk], but logistically it was still pretty complicated.”
The suburbs of Camazotz
Location: Tierra Vista Communities, San Pedro
Realizing the eerily conformist suburban neighborhoods of Camazotz was perhaps Taylor’s greatest challenge, and she searched for months before discovering a strip of pale yellow tract housing adjoining Fort MacArthur in San Pedro.
“We went everywhere from Oxnard to Hemet to Long Beach looking at any place that we thought might [have] uniform-looking houses,” she says. Beginning to fear that the set would either have to be built or created in post-production, she and her location scout Pedro Mata stumbled upon a section of the San Pedro military housing development that boasts nearly-identical residences. “Once we found it,” Taylor continues, “We were like, ‘We have to have it!’”
But there was more work to be done before filming could commence. In addition to requiring background checks for cast and crew (owing to the development’s military affiliation), the almost-identical homes weren’t quite identical enough for the purposes of the story. Completing the effect required a concerted effort by the Wrinkle art department to create a uniform appearance.
“Maybe somebody had changed their sconce outside their house, so we had to go switch it. Or somebody had switched out the blinds and decided to have curtains, and so we had to go put blinds in,” says Taylor. “So we had to make certain little touches. We added some grass, because we were kind of in a drought, and not everybody’s grass was nice and green.” In the end, Taylor was amazed by the result.
“That was one of those moments when I just felt like, look at this combination of efforts of people to end up making this perfectly creepy, exactly-the-same neighborhood,” she says. “It’s a big favorite of mine.”