When actor Tom Ellis landed the leading role on a show set in Los Angeles, he was thrilled at the idea of working on a major network series where L.A., in Ellis’ words, “was very much a character of the show.” The plot of Warner Bros.’ Lucifer (which aired seasons 1-3 on Fox before moving to Netflix for future seasons) revolves around the “devil” moving to L.A. after growing bored with ruling hell for thousands of years.
The pilot episode of Lucifer, which filmed in L.A., had a bigger scope than most typical network shows. Ellis has fond memories of the many “pinch me” moments from the 18-day shoot:
“It was a sort of bigger, slower filming process and much more like doing a movie. That in itself was exciting, I had a lot of ‘pinch me’ moments, we had Hollywood Boulevard closed down for five nights in a row. It’s crazy driving around Hollywood in this gorgeous black Corvette. This is alright, this job!”
Scenes from the 2015 pilot, shot on Hollywood Boulevard, involved a major bus crash, a helicopter, dozens of police, fire fighters, emergency vehicles and, throngs of excited onlookers getting a taste of Hollywood film magic.
Of course, shooting a pilot in any given location is no guarantee that a show will stay for series. After pickup, and for the first two seasons, the big-budget series moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where competitive Canadian film incentives and a favorable currency exchange rates helped the production team put “dollars on the screen.”
As it turned out, the show was destined to return to Southern CA. Around the time Lucifer left California for Vancouver in 2015, another development happened in the state that would ultimately bring the devil back to the City of Angels. In 2015, California’s new Film & Television Tax Credit Program took effect, returning over a dozen television projects to the state in a few short years.
Under California’s newly enhanced film incentive, $66 million in tax credits are made available each year exclusively to lure large, economically desirable shows like Lucifer from out of state to California, where 25 percent of the production’s below-the-line spending qualifies for tax credits. In early 2017, Lucifer, which had just been renewed for its third season, applied for California’s film and TV incentive and was accepted into the program as a relocating show.
For Lucifer fans in L.A., news of the show’s relocation was met with cheers. To celebrate the show’s return to L.A. and shine the spotlight on it as a success under the California Film & Television Tax Credit 2.0 Program, we visited the set of Lucifer at Warner Bros. studios in Burbank earlier this year. During our visit, we spoke with Ellis, Line Producer Hilton Smith and Director of Photography Christian Sebaldt.
All three agreed that the main challenge associated with filming Los Angeles in Vancouver was the weather. On a nine-month shoot, the production was faced with winter conditions forcing many shoots indoors. When exterior locations were required, prepping for a scene sometimes involved snow removal, defrosting the outdoor set with a blowtorch or dressing the set with palm trees and bougainvillea bushes to recreate the Southern California facade.
The special effects budget in Vancouver included obvious effects like Lucifer’s angelic wings or the demonic makeup for his minion Mazikeen, played by Leslie-Ann Brandt. It also had to pay for less obvious visual effects that the audience never saw, like the removal of winter breath visible in Vancouver’s chilly climate.
For Ellis, one of the best things about shooting in L.A. is not just the Southern California weather, but the sunlight specifically. “The light in L.A. is amazing, it has a very different feel than anywhere else,” said Ellis. “It’s very difficult, basically impossible, to replicate L.A.’s light in Vancouver, even in the summer,” said Ellis.
For Ellis, the return to L.A. allowed for the show to spread its proverbial wings. The actor rejoiced in the number of outdoor locations the show has been able to take advantage of since being back in Los Angeles. Season 3 episodes feature scenes filmed at iconic Southern California locations like Santa Monica Beach, the Griffith Observatory, the Hollywood Bowl and more than a few rooftops in places like Hollywood, Venice and downtown L.A.
Sebaldt, a DP on the show, echoed Ellis’ comments about shooting in L.A. and the value of consistently sunny weather and amazing locations. Sebaldt, who discussed the joy of framing shots without pine trees, was glad to be filming in Los Angeles. Shooting in L.A. allowed Sebaldt to reunite with a tight-knit L.A.-based crew he’s worked with for decades.
For line producer Hilton Smith, who joined the show after it moved back to L.A. for season three, the relocation allowed mistakes in the design of older sets in Vancouver to be corrected as sets were rebuilt on the massive stages at Warner Bros. Sitting in the show’s production office, Smith exuded genuine excitement about being able to work on Lucifer. “There is something new and fun to play with every week,” said Smith. “One week we have a show about surfing, another week we are at the Hollywood Bowl and the next week we are choreographing an epic K-Pop fight scene.”
While Ellis and others had nothing but praise for their crew and friends in Vancouver, their joy in being back in L.A. was palpable. Every person we spoke to on Lucifer seemed to be genuine fans of the show and the city where it is set.
And while the team on Lucifer is doing what they love, their work provides a huge benefit to the local economy. Because the show is back in L.A. under the California Film & Television Tax Credit 2.0 Program, season three brought over $92 million to the California economy. All that direct production spending means jobs for more than 275 cast & crew members and over 7,000 background positions. Over the course of a season, the production will also employ the services of hundreds of local vendors and support dozens of jobs in related industries.
But perhaps most importantly, for Sebaldt, Ellis and the show’s L.A. cast and crew members, filming in California means they get to sleep in their own beds. “The benefits of being close to home cannot be understated,” noted Sebaldt, who said “the Los Angeles film community is second to none and filming here means we can accomplish anything.”