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Most people think of Los Angeles as the centre of the big budget film blockbuster world, but the technology and know-how that it takes to make an epic movie has spread out across the planet.
There are thousands of unexpected places that host large film industries. From Morocco to Mexico, Hollywood is everywhere.
Although any nation you name has had a film produced there and every city in the world has at least one movie set in it, there are a few places that boast major movie studios that you would never expect. For example, Morocco is a filming hot spot that appears in many famous blockbuster films. The north coast of Africa was “discovered” by producers in the 1960s and 1970s, when it played home to such major productions as “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Patton.” In the last twenty years that Morocco has really come into its own. Fantasy and adventure films are especially prevalent in Moroccan film, but the desert country often serves as a stand-in for Iraq or other arid locations. “The Mummy,” “Gladiator,” “Inception,” and large portions of “Game of Thrones” were all filmed in Morocco. So many movies shoot there that the most popular locations have amassed their own collection of props and equipment.
It is not only large locations that are unknown to the film going public. There are entire studios of which most people are unaware. For example, there is an enormous studio complex in Baja California that most people have never heard of. Built in 1996, the first major production at Fox Baja Studios was the megahit Titanic. Easy access to the ocean gave the sparkling sunsets that are part of so many movies and enough water to fill the largest “horizon tanks” in the world. So called because they simulate the empty horizons of the open ocean, horizon tanks are a necessary part of nearly every naval spectacle. “Master and Commander,” “Pearl Harbor,” and many other epics were filmed at Fox Baja Studios, only a hundred kilometres south of Los Angeles across the Mexican border.
The single biggest movie studio in the world is much further from Hollywood. Hengdian World Studios is located in the Zhejiang Province of China. Filling more than three hundred hectares, Hengdian has the superlative example of nearly everything needed by the Chinese film industry. The biggest indoor studio in the world, the largest indoor statue of the Buddha, and the only full scale reconstruction of the Forbidden City can all be found at Hengdian. Its thirteen lots can host more than thirty productions at the same time and provide employment for everyone that lives in the area. It is rare that a studio can host even one historical reproduction, but Hengdian habitually recreates the full army movements and astounding pageantry of the past on multiple stages at the same time.
The audience thinks of film as fantasy, but there is more to it than that. In order to create an image on a movie screen, the directors and crew must create the reality of that image, even if only for a second. It does not have to be very real, and it only has to look real from one angle, but there must be that essential moment of reality there or there is nothing for the camera to film. Costumes, makeup, lighting, and more are used to create just enough veracity to shoot the scene. Fantastic filming locations are one of the most powerful tools in the director’s toolkit.
Whether it is the windswept desert of Morocco, the endless illusory horizons of the water tanks in Baja California, or the magnificent recreations of the past in Hengdian, movies use real locations create the reality that they wish us to perceive. The great film locations of the world are of equal importance to cinema as any character or story.