Maps to the Stars: Cronenberg’s First Shoot in Los Angeles

While many interiors of Maps to the Stars were shot in Toronto, there was little doubt that the production would shoot in Los Angeles, to capture that very specific psychosphere–that strange brew of glamour and decay, creative highs and desperate lows–that cannot be imitated.

Says Martin Katz, “Los Angeles really is another main character in this film. This is a film about the way people’s perspective on success is distorted by celebrity culture –and there’s nowhere in the world where that’s more significant, or more poignantly visible, than in Los Angeles.”

Shooting for the first time in the city – indeed for the first time in the United States at all — was an inspiration for Cronenberg. “We only shot five days in LA, but we really made those days count.  I mean, my mantra was, ‘I won’t do any shot without a palm tree in it,’ and I almost achieved that,” he remarks.

He worked with a crew of long-time, award-winning collaborators to bring to life a realm 12 feature film with Cronenberg with Maps to the Stars; Oscar-winning make-up artist Stephen Dupuis and three-time Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore.

bursting not onlywith hustlers and lost dreamers,but alsowith dead spirits and searing flames.Theteam includedcinematographer Peter Suschitzky,who has beenworking with Cronenberg sinceDead Ringers; production designer Carol Spier, who has workedwith Cronenberg throughout his career andmost recently designed Guillermo Del Toro’sPacific Rim; costume designer Denise Cronenberg,whohas worked with her brother since 1986’sThe Fly; editor RonSanders, who makeshis 17thfeature filmwith Cronenberg withMaps to the Stars; Oscar-winning make-up artist Stephen Dupuis and three-time Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore.

Cronenberg’s mandate to the crew was to let the atmosphere of L.A. permeate the story. “Here, the city is like a dense rain forest from which you can hardly escape,” he describes.“ It grabs the characters, it magnetizes them, it sucks them in. Partly they can’t escape because it doesn’t let them think they want to escape. And yet, you can see in all the characters there’s desperation and a desire to getaway. But they can’t. They can’t.”

Contrary to his usual instincts, Cronenberg maximized his use of tourist hot spots. “Unlike Eastern Promises, where we shot in London but deliberately avoided all the iconic London spots, Maps to the Stars is very much about iconic Hollywood. Therefore, we shoton Rodeo Drive, at the Chateau Marmont, under the Hollywood sign andon Hollywood Boulevard. It was hitting the high spots. And, honestly, it was the first time in my life that I’ve ever shot anything in the US. Even though many of my movies are set inthe US, I’ve never shot a foot of film in the U.S. until Maps to the Stars.”

Throughout, even when the production was shooting in Toronto, Bruce Wagner served as a Hollywood tour guide for Cronenberg. I could always ask him ‘would they do this in L.A.?’ or ‘would a street look like that in L.A.?’ And that led to subtle, but crucial, moments of authenticity,” he describes.

Ultimately, Cronenberg’s map of modern Los Angeles–and perhaps of contemporary culture itself –is lined with psychic pitfalls and shadows but also lit up by human vibrancy.“ The city in the film is a deadly beauty,” he concludes. “It’s like a Venus fly trap, where each of these characters is swallowed up by their obsessions with success, celebrity and money.”