Filming Brings Hollywood Dollars to Our Desert Community


By Darla A. Baker, The Daily Independent

A Kia car commercial is filmed on site at the Trona Pinnacles in 2023. COURTESY PHOTO


Most people either love the desert or they hate it.

For those who reside here, the pros outweigh the cons when choosing a location to call home. Good air, less crime, and nature’s beauty for as far as the eye can see.

However, the residents are not alone in their love for the terrain.

Movie and commercial producers also gravitate to the desert as they make unique backdrops to any film production.

Popular shooting locations include the Trona Pinnacles, Cuddeback Dry Lake, Jawbone Canyon, Fossil Falls, and Olancha Dunes, which are not only unique to the area but oftentimes referred to as “surreal.”

Some of the most recognizable productions include the latest Top Gun, Maverick movie, and the Planet of the Apes. It is also a favored shooting site for Lady Gaga, a return customer for her music videos such as “Stupid Love,” filmed at the Trona Pinnacles.

But with filming often comes challenges.

“When they were filming the music video, we were having a heat wave and all the air conditioning at the filming location went out. They had to bring in all sorts of portable air conditioning, so that was a huge challenge,” said Kari Crutcher, executive director of the Ridgecrest Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and film commissioner.

In 2022, the Indian Wells Valley was home to 35 film productions. Crutcher noted that in 2023, the Ridgecrest region hosted fewer productions as the film industry endured two union strikes. The region provides the perfect backdrop for automobile commercials, and in spite of the ongoing strikes, the film commission reported ten automobile commercials were filmed in the area in 2023.

So what does that mean to our economy?



One of the best ways to deal with tough economic times is to attract new business, and that includes film production crews who favor the beauty of our landscape over large town suburban life.

Local communities reap from the influx of filming dollars which can typically total thousands of dollars per day whenever production crews are in town for hotels, restaurants, gas stations, hardware stores and extra labor. More jobs are created and money flows into local businesses as well as generate tax revenues.

According to a recent report, the Kern County Film Commission issues approximately 150 film permits per year on average. Community spend associated with these permitted productions can vary with the yearly average in the area between $1 million to $3 million.

This is why many outside states aggressively compete with California to lure film companies away by offering the most competitive prices in services.

The other states may, at times, beat California’s prices, but few places can beat the Mojave Desert’s unique backdrop.

Plus, filmmaking is a pollutant-free industry. The crews come in, set up, shoot, tear down, clean up and leave.

Said Crutcher, “The work that we do benefits the entire community. I’m really proud of it.”

So the next time you are at the movie theater or cuddled up at home watching productions filmed locally, pay attention to the backdrop scenery. Not only is it proof of when your favorite movie stars and music artists came to town, but it also serves as proof that vital filming dollars are still being spent here (cue in the sound effect of a cash register chiming each time a sale is rung up.)

Filming in Ridgecrest? It just makes good “cents.”

Film Commissioner Kari Crutcher on location at Little Lake Ranch in 2023. The ranch is a popular location for car commercials. COURTESY PHOTO