From our August 2018 magazine:
In the 2008 film “Get Smart,” Steve Carell plays awkward Control Agent 86, aka, Maxwell Smart. Smart and his partner Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) journey to Washington D.C., Moscow, and finally, Los Angeles to thwart a terrorist attack by Russian spies in Los Angeles. The exciting, action-filled conclusion of “Get Smart” was shot in Long Beach.
“You go with what fits,” said Kokayi Ampah, location manager of “Get Smart,” about pairing the perfect location—in this case, Long Beach—to the film.
The epic finale takes place when Smart and The Chief (Alan Arkin) pursue the sinister Agent 23 (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson,) as he tries to escape with Agent 99, who is held hostage. There are explosions and near-misses galore as Smart and The Chief pursue the villain by car and airplane.
Their car spills onto the driving range of Long Beach Golf Learning Center on Pacific Place (now closed) as their car is peppered with golf balls. Then, they crash into sand traps and tractors before crashing the car itself and continuing their pursuit in the air. This dramatic finale was filmed on Interstate 710.
“That was a major stunt for us,” Ampah said. “We shut down the freeway.”
In the end, Smart’s nemesis, Russian spy Siegfried (Terence Stamp,) is ejected out of a car into the Long Beach Harbor. Fortunately, according to Ampah, the shoot was smooth and peaceful, contrasting the chaotic action that unfolds on screen.
“[Production] was very calm and that’s the way you want it,” said Ampah, who was also one of the first African-American people to join the location managers union. “I loved working with John Robinson and his location service, and it was a pleasure working in Long Beach.”
During breaks from filming, Ampah enjoyed going to Belmont Shore and often frequented a fish place on Pine Avenue as well. Ampah also enjoyed bringing several projects to Long Beach, including the television drama “Karen Sisco” and the 2005 film “Coach Carter,” starring Samuel L. Jackson, which was shot in St. Anthony High School’s gym.
“We looked at a number of gyms and that one seemed to have a Northern California feel,” said Ampah of “Coach Carter,” which took place in Richmond, California. “Plus, you could light the gym from windows above and the light was controllable. That gym just worked out for us and it had the proper feel for the movie.”
Whether it be for a basketball scene in a gym or staging a Caltrans car chase, Ampah has used the varied locations of Long Beach to capture magic and action on screen.