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Film set signs throw rabid fans and pesky paparazzi off the trail

By DiAngelea Millar
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES Many people in Los Angeles know that those bright yellow rectangular signs that pop up in their neighborhoods mean a TV show or movie is being filmed nearby.

What they may not know is that the production information on those signs is often misleading – a usually successful attempt to prevent rabid fans or ardent paparazzi from discovering that the production is a big feature film or popular TV show.

“The names are completely different to throw people off,” said Lori Balton, a location manager and president of the Location Managers Guild of America. “It’s just easier to fly under the radar.”

Those yellow signs can be seen in Charlotte on traffic signal and light poles. Currently, motorists can see signs with “HL” and an arrow in block letters, signifying the “Homeland” TV series is being filmed.

The name that appears in big block letters on those yellow signs might be the same as the production company used to get its filming permit.

On recent Los Angeles shoots, “Magnus Rex” was actually the “Batman” reboot “The Dark Knight Rises,” starring Christian Bale, while “Rasputin” was the big-budget sequel “Iron Man 2,” starring Robert Downey Jr.

The sequel to “Captain America: The First Avenger” that filmed in L.A. this year did so under the code name “Freezer Burn,” a reference to a scene in the movie in which the title character, played by Chris Evans, was frozen.

When “Hunger Games” filmed in Charlotte, the code name was “Artemis.”

The original production title for the 2009 movie “Star Trek” was “Corporate Headquarters,” said location scout Kathy McCurdy, who also worked on the 2007 film “Transformers.” When fans blew the film’s alias, “Star Trek” became known as “Walter Lace,” the name of McCurdy’s late grandfather.

McCurdy said it’s hard to keep a big film’s title a secret. “It’s in the course of doing business,” she said. “There’s always somebody who leaks it.”

As much as 80 percent of those bright yellow signs are manufactured in Los Angeles by JCL Barricade Co., which has offered the signs since 2001.

Barricade provided more than 10,000 of the 18-by-24-inch signs for productions across the U.S. last year, said Morris, who expects to meet or exceed that number this year.

That’s despite the increasing number of productions leaving Los Angeles for other cities and states that offer more attractive tax incentives. Losing business to Louisiana and Georgia hasn’t hurt Barricade, though. Morris ships nationwide and has produced signs for productions filming in foreign countries.

Morris said many productions use fake names to hide from obsessed fans.

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