What's the dark California history behind HBO's True Detective?
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Arts & Entertainment

True Detective Season 2: Meet the native Angeleno who finds and creates the locations of 'Vinci'

The field which appears ominously in the first and fourth episodes of
The field which appears ominously in the first and fourth episodes of "True Detective" is in the Santa Monica Mountains, at King Gillette Ranch.

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Subscribe to Welcome to Vinci, our podcast about "True Detective" in iTunes and Stitcher. We're also mapping the show's significant and lesser known locations.

The second season of HBO's "True Detective" creates a Los Angeles that we rarely see on screen.  Its characters don't live in cutesy shacks by the beach. The Hollywood sign doesn't pop up to tell you where you are. When the action goes to the ocean, it has been to show a dead body or a cop's downfall.

This time, we talk to the man who has helped create this dark and realistic setting, which looks and feels a lot like the Southern California cities many of us travel through and work in. 

He is Caleb Duffy, a Location Manager for "True Detective" and someone who collaborated deeply with Nic Pizzolatto on what the new season would look like.  Below are some highlights from our conversation. 

We've also started mapping some of the important and lesser known locations from the show around Southern California:


You're working with Nic Pizzolatto.  The show is being set in L.A.  What kind of directions did you get when you were first trying to scout out locations, and how did you work together?

Most of the creative direction would go from Nic to the designer and producer team. The goal was to show L.A. in the non-iconic way, staying away from Rodeo Drive, Sunset Boulevard and all the shiny, sparkly things that people come here to visit and see.  We base it off of Vernon.

So you were basically just told, "Go to Vernon, find Vernon, and see how much shooting you can do there?"

Yeah, a little bit.  (One) interesting thing about Vernon is they have no graffiti. They take a real strong "Broken Window" philosophy.

Did you have to add graffiti, then, to make it look rougher?

In some areas.

Who's the guy who adds graffiti to a set?

The art department (laughs)

Correct me if I'm mischaracterizing your job, but I think a lot of the location manager's work in Los Angeles is to make Los Angeles not look like Los Angeles.  To make it look like "Anytown, USA."  Here, it seems like you're given direction to make Los Angeles look as real as possible. Does that make it a little more challenging?

Actually, that's easy.  Because we're not trying to create something that it's not.  We're not trying to show it off in a way like "Entourage" may show it off. I grew up here. So I know my neighborhood and what reality is for L.A.

What was it like to deal with the city of Vernon? They have a reputation for being a little bit secretive and maybe not the easiest city to put in the limelight.

So they're trying to welcome more production.  They've aligned with Film LA, the permit office of L.A. We were actually one of the first big projects to work with their team.

I want to know what that pitch meeting was like when you said, "We want to take everything — every bad thing that happened in Vernon in the last five or six years  —and fictionalize it. And we want to use your city to do it."

That conversation didn't happen. There was not a reveal. I would guess that there's not a full reveal of goals and depiction, as far as what the color and tone would be in reflecting Vinci as Vernon. We wouldn't have gotten the access we asked for.

Colin Farrell's character Ray Velcoro's house is in Vernon, it's literally right next door to City Hall. How did looking for that place go, and what was it like when you found it?

It was written on the pages as, "This guy works in a city-funded house right next to City Hall." I'm sure that Pizzolatto knew about this street, because it was a specific target on the page to go find.

Somebody lives there — I talked to them the other day, and they were excited to have the film crew come.  But how do you sell somebody on using their relatively small house to have a huge film crew barge in?

It's delicate. You've gotta go in and be first of all respectful and kind of understanding of whatever level of economic structure they're in.  It's such a trip to ask for access into someone's home and then get the access and essentially invade their lives.

Money helps, but also credibility and revealing what the project is, as far as just the overall name helps.

Tell me about Frank Semyon's house, because that's a beautiful house that I never even knew existed before this.

It was midcentury-modern on top of a hill in Topanga.  The owner doesn't really live there. It reflects exactly what we see with Vince Vaughn's character.

When you're looking for a big, opulent house like Frank Semyon's, is there a real estate agent that you just call up? How do you find something that big that might not already be on a directory or something?

Some of that — I'll call realtors that I know and say, "What do you have?" You can't really get behind gates. With these folks, money is really not an issue.  Getting them to open their doors, you need to go through a service. You need to go through a realtor. You need to get access that way.

I'm guessing, even though it might be less of a hardship to the mansion owner, that they can command a bigger payday from location scouts than the two-bedroom home owner? How much does it range from?

A mansion would be anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 a day for filming.

What are some other places that show up in the series that you're really proud of or were really challenging?

In episode three, the final sequence where they go through the tent city and the near miss on the ramp.  As it read it was written out as a nod to that seven-minute, no cut shot in the gunfight in the hood from the first season.

There were definite cuts in the sequence, but it really did have all that connection that showed in the episode. It started from the door, we lit the car on fire at the corner about a hundred yards away, saw the guy across the street, jumped over the fence, ran through this CalTrans yard that we got this access to that had all of those K-Rails any way, and all we did was put in tents and fires. It connected directly to an interchange from northbound 110 to the westbound 105 - that spaghetti overpass.

They allowed us to close it down mid-week on a Thursday and a Friday, which is never  done. It was unbelievable.

In episode one there's that establishing shot of that open field with the stakes in the ground?  Where on earth is that?

That is Gillette Ranch in Malibu. It's actually where they do The Biggest Loser.