Parking was prohibited in some areas of downtown Sacramento during some local shooting of a Warner Bros. film, including at 9th and E streets, as pictured, on Feb. 20. (Photos by Graham Womack)

Lights, Camera, Sacto

Warner Bros. movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio highlights Sacramento as filming location

Back Web Only Feb 28, 2024 By Graham Womack

Customers and staff at Mulvaney’s B&L in Sacramento knew the drill when one of the world’s most famous movie stars popped in for a recent meal.

Leonardo DiCaprio has been in downtown Sacramento during February filming a movie directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, reportedly based on the Thomas Pynchon novel “Vineland.” This classic book takes place in California, which might have helped spur the film shooting in the Capital Region. Patrick Mulvaney, chef and co-owner of the 19th Street restaurant, says someone called ahead to make a reservation for DiCaprio around the time the production came to town.

DiCaprio sat in a corner with his group and was left alone at the restaurant, which is mentioned in the Michelin Guide and is locally known for having a menu that changes daily. “The guests were very nice,” Mulvaney says. “They realized that when you come to Mulvaney’s, you just want to sit down and have a quiet meal with friends. And everyone was very mindful of that.”

It was just one more fleeting glimpse related to a filming that has provided surreal sights downtown, while showcasing Sacramento’s ability to accommodate a major motion picture production. 

With Sacramento nearly 400 miles from Hollywood and an increasing number of films shot in Georgia for tax purposes, the Capital Region doesn’t frequently host productions. But when it happens, people can get excited. Mike Testa, president and CEO of tourism group Visit Sacramento, was at Tower Theatre watching Greta Gerwig’s 2017 film, “Lady Bird,” when the iconic theater appeared onscreen.

“Everybody started cheering,” Testa says.

Sometimes, as in “Lady Bird,” Sacramento has played itself on screen. Other times, it has doubled for elsewhere. The opening aerial shot of the 1999 film “American Beauty” would be recognizable as East Sacramento to locals, though it was intended to be Chicago. Testa said that parts of the 2005 film “Memoirs of a Geisha” were filmed in Old Sacramento, though it was playing Japan.

“It’s easy to be somewhere else in Sacramento,” Testa says. “If you shoot in San Francisco, it’s oftentimes very obvious you’re in San Francisco.”

Whatever the case, even if productions don’t wind up being incalculably good promotion for Sacramento like “Lady Bird,” they can drive visitors to filming locations. Michael Ault, executive director of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, said that visits to the central business district, where parts of DiCaprio’s movie were being filmed, were up 5 percent from the same time last year.

“We’ve seen crowds of people coming down, hoping to catch a glimpse of the action,” Ault says. “But I think beyond the numbers, these kinds of productions, I would say, have a real potential for us to rebrand the city’s perception.”

There’s also been nominal amounts of business driven by the film’s crew.

A person associated with the production of a Warner Bros. film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Sean Penn pushes a cart at 8th and F streets in Sacramento on Feb. 20.

“It’s been great,” said Rob Mullins, a transportation driver for the production. “Everybody’s been really great here. Everything’s been really cool. And the businesses that we’ve frequented are really cool, too.”

He noted that he’d eaten at sushi restaurant Mikuni.

The filming had some less-than-positive things associated with it, too. The Sacramento Bee reported that the city cleared homeless encampments from Cesar Chavez Plaza in anticipation of filming. Some reporting also noted that a shootout scene in the movie caused public confusion.

Filming included scenes like police cars zipping into an alleyway across 8th Street from Central Library downtown.

What the film’s broader footprint will be for Sacramento remains to be seen, with the city’s film commissioner, Jennifer West, unavailable for interview.

A spokesperson for the city, Jennifer Singer, provided a written statement saying that the city and West’s office were “thrilled Warner Brothers is filming here in Sacramento and we look forward to sharing more details about the project and the economic impacts this has on our community in the future.”

For now, the most easily measurable effects of the filming on Sacramento are the anecdotal accounts from people who live and work downtown or have other reasons to have been there recently.

Near a filming location not far from the Sacramento County Courthouse on Feb. 20 — a day that DiCaprio wasn’t in town, according to a production staffer who didn’t give their name — locals going about their business had a range of reactions. Some like Kathleen Coleman, who’d been called for jury duty, dealt with street closures as filming rolled.

“I missed the stoplight three times because I wasn’t sure which way to go,” Coleman says.

Others weren’t aware of the production, such as Jamari Briggs, who was out looking for better housing with his mom. Asked his thoughts on DiCaprio filming a movie locally, Briggs says he thought it was “pretty cool.”

Another person serving jury duty, Abraham Juarez, says he hasn’t had any sightings of celebrities associated with the film, whose cast includes Sean Penn. 

It hasn’t been unheard of in recent years for celebrities to film movies in Sacramento. “No Address,” starring Ashanti, William Baldwin and others filmed locally about a year ago. A road trip movie starring Michael Cera and Kristen Stewart called “Sacramento” filmed not long after that.

As for the Warner Bros. movie that was shooting locally recently, Juarez says he looks forward to seeing if he can recognize buildings in the finished product.

“It’s good to have, around here, a little bit more recognition,” Juarez says. “I think Sacramento’s a great city to have these events. And so I hope more of this happens.”

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