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Lights, Camera, Adventure: A Journey into the Movies

Let's Go On A Movie Location Journey

We are honoured to have a wonderful guest post from Justin Wilkinson from the excellent MovieLocationHunter website. Justin shares with us some of the iconic movie locations that we will be familiar with from being Lucas and Spielberg fans. Take it away, Justin!

My fascination with movie locations all started when I was a young boy, awe struck by the outer-space settings of Star Wars, the time travelling in Back to the Future, the gadgets and glamour of 007 – ‘Bond, James Bond’ (Roger Moore was my childhood Bond) and the swashbuckling adventures of Indiana Jones.

I never imagined as a child that these places were accessible – they were magical, mysterious all part of the alluring movie going experience.

As I grew up my love of movies became stronger and my curiosity in what was involved in the process of movie making deepened. I would wait expectantly to watch the movies I had seen at the cinema again when they came out on different media – first on the old Betamax/VHS video cassettes borrowed from Blockbusters (remember them?) and then upgraded to LaserDisc, DVDs, Blu-Ray and now UHD. I built a library collection of my favourite films. I bought special editions and watched the additional extras with interviews and details of how the film was constructed and put together. I developed an encyclopaedic knowledge (so my family and friends tell me) of my favourite films (the directors, the composers, the art directors and cinematographers) and I was always trying to figure out where these seemingly so far-away places in the movies were.

In 2010, my wife had a sabbatical at UCLA in Los Angeles, California and was fortunate enough with work to be able to join her for the whole duration. Browsing my usual fan forums, I saw photos from people I knew online who had visited Death Valley where pick-up shots from 1977’s Star Wars were filmed. The story is that Mark Hamill had his horrifying car accident on route to Death Valley and that is the reason we see C3PO nearer the camera in the landspeeder to help mask the fact an extra was filling in for Hamill.

Then it dawned on me. Death Valley is in California and so were we! We planned a future trip to Death Valley but before that I started looking for locations in L.A. Of course, there were lots, far too many to visit but I started making a list of those I would really like to see.

At this time, I had no other plans than to simply visit and experience it for myself. We only had a basic point and shoot camera (still have it as a memento) and the very first location we ever visited was the street dance scene from Michael Jackson’s Thriller just after he turned into a Zombie.

Arriving around dusk in our hire car to what appeared to be a very run-down industrial trading estate it was obvious that this was not a tourist area! When we arrived at the spot there were about five people standing next to the famous wall and I thought this is not good until I heard the Thriller song and the people replicating the dance. Realising they were there for the same reason, I got out and approached them and they were totally bemused why a guy from England was in this location and they advised me to take my photo quickly and leave the area - which is exactly what I did.

And so it was, that at an industrial estate, at dusk, for the one of the most famous music videos of all time, I had visited my first movie location and the location hunting bug had bitten me very hard.
My first location at Michael Jackson’s Thriller Wall in LA.
My first location at Michael Jackson’s Thriller Wall in LA.

From there, during our stay in LA we travelled throughout California (on business of course!!) but making detours on the way to any places where movies had been made. But they couldn’t just be any movies, they had to be movies that I loved and would watch again and again. They had to have meaning to me and so I am selective about where I go and what locations I hunt.

Since that time, we have been to Tatooine and stood atop the sand dunes where R2D2 and C3PO had gone before.
Sand Dunes of Tatooine (aka Death Valley)
At the Sand Dunes of Tatooine (aka Death Valley)

We have trodden the path of Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala in Naboo, scaled Ahch-To to visit the hermitage of The Last Jedi and watched by the shores of Takodana as the Force Awakens.
In Naboo Re-tracing the steps of Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala
 In Naboo Re-tracing the steps of Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala 

Looking to the Skies on Takodana (Puzzlewood in the UK)
Looking to the Skies on Takodana (Puzzlewood in the UK)

We have been to Marty McFly and Doc’s houses, Deckard’s residence and we have stood on the spot that Tilly Masterson aimed her sniper rifle at Goldfinger missing Bond by inches. We have explored Sad Hill and located the spot the hanging ‘ugly one’ was shot free by the Good one. We have been to the castle of El-Cid galloping out to lead his troops and the fields where Spartacus stood to fight for freedom. We have ventured into the original Batman cave from the classic television series, visited the mansion of the Dark Knight and took in the same vista over the city of Los Angeles as the naked Terminator. I have lain on the gravelly beach where Carter got shot and raced on the track of Chariots of Fire. We have scaled mountains to reach the waterfall peak where Ramírez was training Connor MacLeod his protégée. We even had a picnic at this spot.

We have stood at the crossroads where Professor Jones senior urged his son to drive to Berlin (which was in Spain) and hid behind the pillars of Nazi headquarters (which was in England) as books were burning and the experienced the Last Crusade.
Indiana Jones at Nazi Headquarters in Berlin (aka Stowe House in the UK)
Indiana Jones at Nazi Headquarters in Berlin (aka Stowe House in the UK)

As we are travelling to the locations, I line up the movie theme tunes to really get into the mood and there are no better soundtracks than those of the incredible John Williams blaring out to get into the moment and really feel the emotions of the movie.
In Search of the Last Crusade at the Spanish Tabernas Desert
In Search of the Last Crusade at the Spanish Tabernas Desert

Along the way we have met some incredibly interesting people who have told us some amazing stories. Like the old Scottish man walking his little terrier who told us how the crew had to burn a second Wicker Man to shoot into the sunset and the old French gate keeper in Chantilly who regaled us with tales of filming and how 007 (Roger Moore) certainly liked a tipple in the afternoons.
At the Three Rocks Looking Down into the Valley
At the Three Rocks Looking Down into the Valley

I have been hunting movie locations now for many years and over those years an informal community has grown organically as we find each other on social media. We have a shared passion for movies and sometimes help each other with find locations – the golden rule is you never offer but always wait to be asked because you don’t want to spoil the thrill of hunting down a location. I have friends in the community that go back to the very early days of this mad and wild hobby and have made new friends. The ‘community’ is growing, and you have people with their own unique styles – some with stills side-by-side pictures, some holding up screen shots and embedding them in the location and some documenting on video all the locations of one movie at a time. Whichever way it is done, I appreciate the effort and time it takes but also the pleasure that it brings.

I don’t hunt movie locations for the likes or the views or to be ‘insta-famous’ – but mainly for the challenge and the biggest adrenaline rush when you are out in the field, and you turn a corner after a long quest and suddenly you are transported onto the movie set. At this point I take a moment where I just stand there to take it all in. I like to figure out the camera angles, actor placement, camera shots and even the logistics of how they got equipment to that location. When I am ready, I line up the shot – I match my shots as closely as I can to the film frame but at the same time, I want my picture to be interesting – I set up the camera and the shot is taken.

Over the years, we have perfected our process and our techniques, and we like to travel light. We have a pre-packed kit with a camera, small drone, walkie-talkies, back-up batteries and of course smart phones with locations, movie screen shots and all the details we need to hunt down the spots.

The satisfaction I get is from the whole process – the planning, the organisation, picking places from my favourite movies, the anticipation and then the execution of the plans. They don’t always go to plan, but they are always a new and interesting adventure.

I am often asked isn’t it boring just visiting movie locations and doesn’t it ruin the movie for future viewings and my answer to both is no. Regardless of the movies, we have travelled through some amazing scenery that most tourists would never see and is the reason Hollywood is also there. As for re-watching movies, because I love these movies so much, it enhances my experience of them - although not so much for friends and family - when I keep pointing to the screen and saying, “been there!”

Justin Wilkinson
I was born and raised in England and work in the world of digital media. Although an avid fan of many movies I grew up as a Star Wars kid and once that Star Destroyer first flew over my head wondering whether it was ever going to end and I heard that iconic John Williams soundtrack, I was hooked and still am today.

For more images and details of locations and movies see

Twitter/X : @movielochunter

The Bearded Trio - The Site For Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Williams and a whole lot more.


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