Big Fish (2003)

In Tim Burton’s 2003 film, “Big Fish,” an older Ed Bloom, played by Albert Finney, recounts tales of his life to his estranged son, Will, as he is sick and dying.  The Bloom house, from which most of the tales are told, can be found in the town of Wetumpka, Alabama.  The house sits perched in close proximity to a street full of local businesses and it’s almost easy to confuse it as another business space, but it is a private residence.

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LOCATION: 401 E Bridge St, Wetumpka, AL 36092

One of the most underappreciated film locations we’ve ever visited is the fictional town of “Spectre,” which is actually Jackson Lake Island in  Millbrook, Alabama.  We can only conclude the location isn’t more widely appreciated due to it’s lack of proximity to any destination cities.  It’s a real gem if you can make it there, however.

The island is privately owned, but the owners are quite accommodating to visitors, charging a very modest fee and offering anything from short term visits to overnight camping.  The island is fully accessible by car.  Upon arrival, you’ll reach a gate where you must pay the small entrance fee.  There are signs posted for a number to call after paying the fee.  After calling the number, you are given an access code to open the gate.  The island in general is beautiful and quiet.  It’s a great place to camp, even if you’re not a film lover.  More often than not, when locations such as these are used for a film, they usually get destroyed at the completion of production and the owners do their best to discourage visitation.  Jackson Lake Island is a refreshingly opposite case.  The property owners fully embrace the island’s connection to the film and preserved much of the look of Spectre.  It really does feel like you walked straight into the film when you arrive.

Here are the trees where a young Ed Bloom, played by Ewan McGregor, first arrives at Spectre.  As you can see, the trees were artificial props, but still remain standing.

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LOCATION: Jackson Lake Island, Millbrook, AL 36054

A sign stating “Welcome to Spectre,” just like the one seen in the film.

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One of our favorite touches is the fact that there is still a line strung, with shoes hanging from it, just like the little girl does to all visitors of Spectre, so that they might never leave.  Clearly the number of shoes has multiplied since filming ended.  If you’ve got an old pair you’re willing to part with, you too can add your shoes.

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Not all of the buildings seen in the film are still standing.  The town is shown a few different times in the film, first as a vibrant community, then in a nearly abandoned state of disrepair and finally as a restored town, thanks to Ed Bloom.  The buildings left now do not exactly look vibrant, but it’s still a great experience walking through the fictional town.  Here we’ll run through the remaining buildings, one by one.

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Last, but not least, is of course the town church.  Yes, those are goats standing in front of (and underneath) the church.  They are quite friendly.

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As far as filming locations go, we’d rank Jackson Lake Island among the best we’ve ever visited.  From the friendly owners, to the modest prices, to the beautiful scenery and of course the extraordinary preservation to how the town appeared in the film, there really isn’t much more you could ask from a filming location.  It may be out of the way from your usual tourist destinations, but it’s well worth making a detour.

Hard Eight (1996)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s underappreciated 1996 debut film, “Hard Eight” (a.k.a. “Sydney”) filmed primarily in Reno, Nevada.

The restaurant seen at the beginning and end of the film, where Sydney, played by Philip Baker Hall, meets John, played John C. Reilly, who is sitting outside the doorway, was filmed at Jack’s Cafe in Sparks, Nevada, located just outside of Reno.

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LOCATION: 2200 Victorian Ave, Sparks, NV 89431

The entrance where John C. Reilly is sitting is not the main entrance to the restaurant.  In fact, it’s a side door with an emergency exit sign.  There were several homeless people around this area.

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Things take a turn for the worse when John and Clementine, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, find themselves involved in a hostage situation at a motel.  The motel is the Ace Motor Lodge in Reno.  The motel has changed quite a bit from how it appeared in the film and is now more dilapidated.

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LOCATION: 222 N Sierra St, Reno, NV 89501

John can be seen exiting through the front entrance.  The surrounding area has also changed quite a bit from what was seen in the film, as the casinos are no longer beside the motel.

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Near the end of the film, Sydney awaits Jimmy, played by Samuel L. Jackson, at his house.

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LOCATION: 756 W 6th St, Reno, NV 89503

Related articles: Boogie Nights (1997)Magnolia (1999)Punch-Drunk Love (2002)There Will Be Blood (2007)The Master (2012)Inherent Vice (2014)

My Girl (1991)

For those seeking out the filming locations of the 1991 film “My Girl,” prepare yourself for a lengthy journey.  While the film was set in Madison, Pennsylvania, it was shot mostly around Central Florida, with many of the locations scattered far apart from one another, tucked away in small towns.  To see the “My Girl” locations for yourself requires a lot of time and travel.

The Saltenfuss house, where Vada, played by Anna Chlumsky, lives with her father Harry, played by Dan Aykroyd, can be found in the town of Bartow, Florida.  For quite some time after the film, the property operated as a bed and breakfast.  Due to the property’s distance from major tourist destinations, however, it was unfortunately forced to shut down due to a lack of guest bookings.  It has since returned to being a private residence.  The house is very impressive and recognizable to how it appeared on screen, so if you have the time to venture to Bartow and are a fan of the film, it’s worth the journey.

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LOCATION: 555 E Stanford St, Bartow, FL 33830

Shelly, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, pulls her RV up from around this corner in front of the house.

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The main street where Veda and Thomas J., played by Macaulay Culkin, ride their bikes can be found in Sanford, Florida.  They can be seen crossing this road with the clock tower to the right, then riding down the sidewalk.

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LOCATION: Intersection of E 1st St and Magnolia Ave, Sanford, FL 32771

They then ride their bikes up a ramp that specifically says “no bicycles,” taking a short cut through a mechanic’s garage.  That building and ramp have since been demolished.  The alley they exit onto can still be found, however, where the garage owner yells at them as they ride away.

LOCATION: Alley directly behind 228 E 1st StSanford, FL 32771

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As they approach Dr. Welty’s office, they continue riding their bikes down another alley, which features a “Nixon / Agnew ’72” poster on the brick wall.  This alley really is just around the corner from the Dr. Welty’s office filming location.

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LOCATION: Alley between 107 and 111 Magnolia Ave, Sanford, FL 32771

Vada visits Dr, Welty’s office, where, in spite of her claims that she’s sick, the doctor insists she’s in perfect health.

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LOCATION: 113 Magnolia Ave, Sanford, FL 32771

The kids then come across their school teacher, Mr. Bixler, played by Griffin Dunne, who is painting his house.

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LOCATION: 605 Magnolia Ave, Sanford, FL 32771

The tree where Vada and Thomas J. become “blood brothers” and later kiss in the film was a bit of movie magic.  It was, in fact, an artificial tree, built in part using pieces of a real tree.  After extensive location hunting for a willow tree beside a lake, the filmmakers failed to find what they were looking for and instead opted to make their own tree.  A team was hired to cut down a large oak tree, tagging each branch for reassembly, then uprooting it and moving it to the lake location.  The lake in question is Mirror Lake in Clermont, Florida, which is located somewhat far away from the other filming locations.  The base of the tree was held in place by five tons of cement, with metal coupling sleeves to reinforce the branches.  They then covered the entire thing with $15,000 worth of silk willow leaves to give you the tree you saw in the film, which appeared quite authentic.  Today all that remains in the metallic base of the tree.  The dock was there until a few years ago, when it was removed due to deterioration.

This portion of the lake is not open to the public and is not visible from the road.  However, the much of the surrounding land is currently up for sale, in an effort to develop more housing around the area.  So while an eventual sale of the property could open it up for easier visibility, there is always the possibility that developing the land could in turn lead to the removal of the tree base.  The reason it hasn’t already been removed is most likely due to the five tons of concrete beneath.

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LOCATION: Mirror Lake, Old Hwy 50 W, Clermont, FL 34711 (closest known address is 15647 Old Hwy 50 W, Clermont, FL 34711, the GPS coordinates of the tree base itself are 28.565015, -81.700218)

A bit closer look at the tree base.

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Vada sneaks over to Thomas J.’s house and asks him to go to the church with her to spy on her father’s date with Shelly.

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LOCATION: 603 Myrtle Ave, Sanford, FL 32771

They church they head to is Ocoee Christian Church in Ocoee, Florida.  The kids can be seen walking down the sidewalk on the left and passing the front steps as they make their way over to the bingo tent.  Once again, Ocoee is not a short drive to get to and it’s somewhat puzzling why the filmmakers chose such a far-removed location, as surely there must have been other churches available that were closer to the other filming locations.

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LOCATION: 15 S Bluford Ave, Ocoee, FL 34761

Here is the yard to the church, where the bingo tent was set up.

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The school where Mr. Bixler teaches his creative writing class can be found at the 1914 Plant City High School Community Building, not to be confused with the present day Plant City High School.  The 1914 building is an old landmark and serves as a community center.

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LOCATION: 605 N Collins St, Plant City, FL 33563

Back in Sanford, near the end of the film, Thomas J.’s mother runs into Harry at The Breezeway Restaurant & Bar, which is located right by the clock tower on main street, where the kids are seen riding their bikes early in the film.  Harry is eating inside, when he comes out and speaks to her on this sidewalk at the corner.

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LOCATION: 112 E 1st St, Sanford, FL 32771

If you’re a fan of the film, the good news is most of the filming locations are still preserved.  The biggest challenge, aside from the handful of locations found around the town of Sanford, is simply traveling around to all of these distant towns from one another, which composite the small Pennsylvania town depicted in the film.

Kenneth Anger House

Perched across the corner from Alamo Square Park is the infamous Kenneth Anger house, also known as the Westerfeld House.  First built in 1889, the house managed to survive a 1905 earthquake.  In 1928, a group of Czarist Russians purchased the home and turned part of it into a brothel.  The house became nicknamed by locals as the “Russian Embassy,” or simply, “The Embassy.”  In the 1950s, with the rise of the beatniks, the house became occupied by many jazz musicians.  It is said that everyone from Allen Ginsberg to the Grateful Dead all visited the house.

By the mid-1960s, the area had fallen into decline and in 1966, the house was rented to filmmaker Kenneth Anger.  Although his stay was brief, lasting only until 1967, the house took on a new level of infamy during this period.  Anger filmed portions of his short film, “Invocation of My Demon Brother” at the house, which featured Anton LaVey and Bobby Beausoleil, with music by Mick Jagger.  Anger also claims to have sighted UFOs from the tower of the house.

A documentary about the history of the home is even in the works, known as “Westerfeld House of Legends.”

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LOCATION: 1198 Fulton St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Beausoleil, who not long after would become involved in one of the Manson Family murders, posed for a famous photo on the front stairs of the building.  On decidedly less of a counter-culture note, the house sits adjacent to San Francisco’s famous “Painted Ladies,” which readers might recognize from the TV series “Full House.”  The creator of “Full House,” Jeff Franklin, later moved onto the property where the Manson Family murders took place.

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In 2014, Kenneth Anger himself made a rare public appearance at the Ace Theater in downtown Los Angeles, which was hosting a collection of his films.  It was scheduled to feature the first ever public screening of Jimmy Page’s unused film score to Anger’s “Lucifier Rising” (Page’s score was rejected in favor of one by Bobby Beausoleil, who composed the music from prison while serving out his murder sentence).  The screening featuring Page’s score was cancelled, however, reportedly due to legal threats.

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Here is a photo of Anger, who briefly spoke at the event.

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Lastly, we leave you with Kenneth Anger’s signature and hand prints, which can be found in front of the Vista Theater, one of L.A.’s best vintage theaters.

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LOCATION: Vista Theater, 4473 Sunset Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90027