Ontario, Calif., Airport Serves as Backdrop for Hollywood Movie Scenes
Business Press, Ontario, CA
Monday, April 1, 2002
For five days between March 22-27, pastel-colored spring fashions and 1960s bouffant and Brylcreem hairstyles combined with the magic of Hollywood to transform a retired section of Ontario International Airport into a bustling retro image of the Miami International Airport. Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg was shooting exterior crowd scenes for a major new Hollywood motion picture.
"Rolling!" yelled a series of assistant directors.
The call, "Background!" set 400 extras in motion, simulating a busy airport scene set in the mid-1960s, while the sounds of Frank Sinatra's "Come Fly With Me" played over loudspeakers.
Located adjacent to the remote north parking lot, the former main terminal of the carefully disguised Ontario International Airport was recently featured in several scenes of the new DreamWorks SKG feature, "Catch Me If You Can," set between 1964 and 1966.
The cast and crew at Ontario spent hours of standing around waiting for four or five takes of carefully choreographed chaos. Interior crowd scenes shot March 25 required only 225 extras.
"This is the biggest [film project] we've had here in the 13 years I've been here," said ONT Chief of Operations Kim Ellis. Spielberg sat behind the Panavision camera, American and Florida flags snapping in the breeze. Along the curb a string of early 1960s-era Checker cabs disgorged bit players in period costume. Beyond the camera's view a row of 15 white semi-tractor trailers and heavy truck-based cranes with double banks of high-intensity Bebee lights illuminated the scene.
"We enjoy the hustle and bustle," said airport spokeswoman Maria Fermin. Airport administration offices are housed in the old terminal building.
"Catch Me If You Can" is based on the story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a con artist and bank robber, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who became the youngest man to make the FBI's Most Wanted list; his nemesis in this cat-and- mouse tale is FBI agent Carl Hanratty, portrayed by Academy Award winner Tom Hanks. Both stars were involved in all the shooting at ONT.
Mike Fantasia, locations manager for DreamWorks SKG, first became acquainted with the Ontario airport three years ago, filming portions of the Johnny Depp-Penelope Cruz film, "Blow," there. The airport provided security, electrical and maintenance staff. Filming did not disrupt normal airport operations.
"If every day of filming was as easy as it is in Ontario, I wouldn't have all this gray hair," Fantasia laughed.
The crew scouted the airport eight to 10 times, bringing set designers and art directors.
The four days of local shooting was bookended by six days of preparation and three days for cleanup. Filming wrapped up March 27. Spielberg and his crew left March 28.
The production company's expenditures "easily translate into hundreds of thousands of dollars every day," Fantasia said, however, little of the spending occurred locally; almost all of the extras, classic cars, equipment and catering were brought in from Hollywood.
Most of the crew of 125 stayed in local hotels, but about 30 commuted from their Los Angeles-area homes. The high-profile stars shuttled back and forth from Santa Monica and their Malibu homes by helicopter, landing at the Mercury Air Center VIP reception area on the airport's south side.
Even Ontario airport profited little from the elaborate transformation. Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn wants the Los Angeles World Airports, including Ontario, to be accessible to the motion picture industry.
Because the airport falls under city of Los Angeles jurisdiction, the production required little assistance from Sheri Davis, director of the Inland Empire Film Commission.
The crew looked at several Inland Empire airports, Davis said. She joined with the production staff in urging Hahn's office to ease access to areas adjacent to the old terminal building despite airport security restrictions.
A high-profile film like "Catch Me If You Can," set for release in late November, could boost Ontario's reputation in the film community, Davis and Ellis agreed.