Did ‘ya Guess It?
If you think it would have taken a film genius to figure out our seventeenth LOCATION, LOCATION, Location? entry, you might be on to something. Without a doubt, it was one of the more obscure and difficult filming locations to guess since the area in question has changed quite a bit over the years!
The answer to this week’s LOCATION, LOCATION, Location? comes from the 1985 comedy hit, Real Genius, with coordinates set squarely on the location of the infamous “popcorn house” seen in the finale of the film.
Let’s take a look at the THEN and NOW pictures and a bit of information about the location …
(A click on each picture will expand them into a new window for a better look)
Real Genius – It’s not a title that typically comes up in conversation when people are talking about great films from the 80’s. In fact, when the most memorable films of 1985 are mentioned, especially with the staff here at Beyond the Marquee, more often than not, Back to the Future is cited as THE film of that year and era. However, when the top movies of the 80’s end up on a ‘best-of’ list of some sort, Real Genius eventually finds it’s place when someone says, “Remember that Val Kilmer film with the popcorn house at the end?” It’s that delayed recall about Real Genius that has made it a pop culture 80’s gem (emphasis on “pop”) with a cult following that keeps finding new fans and still manages to delight old fans of the film when it’s rediscovered.
The film earns that recognition with its uncanny ability to not seem too dated, especially since there is an emphasis and story centered around mid-1980’s technology. The filmmakers, especially director, Martha Coolidge (Valley Girl, Joy of Sex) did their homework on modern laser pioneering at Cal Tech, MIT and military application within the CIA. As a result, the realism seen in the film still holds up very well to this day. Coincidentally, Ron Cobb, a production designer with a very impressive film resume, worked on Real Genius as a consultant for the laser technology seen in the movie. Cobb is notably known for taking the too-slick, early sci-fi concept sketches of the Back to the Future DeLorean Time Machine and redesigning them into more of a believable pieced-together, garage-built car that ‘Doc’ Brown would invent. The combination of a stellar early performance by Val Kilmer and a fun and talented supporting cast bolstered by a believable script (even for an 80’s comedy) has worked well to make Real Genius a film worth watching again and again.
While Real Genius has several fun scenes throughout (including a couple standard 80’s montages thrown in for good measure), it’s the ending that shows off the most memorable and satisfying set piece – Professor Hathaway’s (William Atherton) new house being destroyed by laser-popped popcorn. And it’s that scene in particular that leads to the inevitable question…
“How did they do that?”
Here’s a clip from the film with the scene in question …
To accomplish the feat of making a house get pulled apart by popcorn, the filmmakers had their work cut out for them and it was no easy task. They first had to find a suitable location where a specially-rigged house with hydraulics could be built. The location was in a suburb just north of Los Angeles in Canyon Country which, at that time in the 80’s, was a subdivision under new construction with several open places they could choose to build. Building the house was the easy part, destroying it with popcorn was where the true challenge came into play.
The filmmakers required almost 200 tons of popcorn in order to adequately fill the house and simulate the structure-busting effect. Getting that amount of popcorn was beset with problems and according to actor Gabe Jarret, the first company hired out to pop the popcorn burned down due to overuse of the popping machines. Later batches of the popcorn were treated with fire retardant to avoid combustion and had to be covered on set so that birds seeking a snack wouldn’t be poisoned.
In an interview with director, Martha Coolidge, she went on to explain the difficulties they encountered. “… our Special FX guy became an expert on popcorn (which, by the way, weighs 2 pounds per cubic foot). In order to build the exploding house, he had to design all kinds of hydraulic systems to move the popcorn inside. To get that much popcorn, we had to make half of it as we couldn’t buy that much popcorn from commercial companies in that short a period of time. We popped 40 tons ourselves on the lot for 6 weeks with huge poppers outside so the whole lot smelled like popcorn. We bought another 100 tons with a six week advanced order. When we shot on location, we stored the popcorn in 38 40-foot tractor-trailer trucks parked up the road. It took more than a day to clean up the site to do take two, so we had to go shoot other scenes in between. It was also amazing to watch. I’ll never forget tons of popcorn gushing out of that house.”
The Location Today
Years later, Professor Hathaway’s house is long gone and the popcorn has disappeared, but the subdivision where filming took place remains and so do some key identifiers that point out where the action took place. Typically, when LOCATION, LOCATION, Location? steps out to visit a filming location, more often that not, it’s easy to be transported into the film once you show up in person. Visiting the Karate Kid apartment complex is a perfect example of that where it’s like stepping back into the movie as if nothing much has changed since 1984.
With the Real Genius popcorn house location, however, it’s not that easy to imagine yourself back in the movie. Similar to visiting the filming locations of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, in a suburb that was still under construction during filming, the subdivision featured in Real Genius is now built up completely with green lawns and massive trees obscuring most of the original views. Most notably, the property on which the popcorn house was built now has a more permanent residence taking its place.
Getting one’s bearings on where filming occurred takes a bit of patience, but the key to figuring out where you are located all comes down to visiting the sewer. As seen in the film, off to the right side of Professor Hathaway’s house is a culvert (drain sewer) that features prominently when ‘Ick’ spies on the house and later when Chris Knight and the gang show up to watch the explosive finale. That culvert still exists today and if you’re willing to trek down to the soggy passageway, you can easily rediscover the sight lines seen in the film. The fancy cobblestone side of the sewer drain located next to the popcorn house is completely inaccessible nowadays and covered over with tree growth (unless you want to walk through the drain much like Ick did). On the other side of the drain, it is easy to locate yourself and figure out where Hathaway’s house once stood, where the laser beam hit, and where other key scenes took place on the street.
The actual property where Hathaway’s house was built hasn’t changed much other than a different house now being in its place, set back farther from the street. Neighbor’s houses which could be seen in the film are easy to identify and the curve layout of the street remains identical… including a curb storm drain that you can see in the film which helps in figuring out where you are. With so much development and overgrowth of nature, mountains that were seen in the background of the film are almost completely invisible and the “open air” desert look surrounding Hathaway’s house is very much gone from the location today. That said, it’s still a thrill visiting such a memorable movie location.
If you haven’t seen Real Genius in a long time or never heard of it, do yourself a favor and find a DVD or digital copy. 2015 marks the 30th Anniversary of the film and it is long overdue for a Special Edition Blu-ray with filmmaker commentary and behind-the-scenes special features. Hopefully, Sony Home Video will make something happen to give the film some much needed attention soon.
There are three things that matter in filmmaking and television:
Location, Location, Location.
Exclusive to Beyond the Marquee, LOCATION, LOCATION, Location? is a popular recurring feature that chooses random filming locations from some famous (and not so famous) film and television productions throughout the years. The locations are posted for BTM viewers to take a guess as to what movie or TV show the location was used.
The location as it looks NOW is posted on a Monday. On Wednesday, the answer and THEN picture identifying the location as it was seen on the large or small screen is identified, usually with a brief history lesson to go with it. Some entries may be very easy to guess, others may be difficult and sometimes a clue will be given to help point people toward the right answer.
The goal is not to point out exact address information for these locations, but to encourage viewers to put on their own marquee’ologist hats and experience the thrill of the hunt to discover and visit these real world settings themselves.
Previous LOCATION, LOCATION, Location? Entries can be found here:
Kevin Stern is a co-producer and contributing writer for Beyond the Marquee. His articles can be found on BTM via this link: http://beyondthemarquee.com/category/about-us/articles-by-author/kevin-stern/
Kevin can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org