Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk grows rep for big-screen screams

‘Us’ and ‘Bumblebee’ among films keeping park in the spotlight

AT: Dean Lamanna

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — At the age of 112, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is almost as old as Hollywood. With that moviemaking mecca down the coast often sending crews north to film at the California Historical Landmark, it appears that, over the decades, mutual admiration between the two locations has grown.

The seaside park, already an iconic cinematic backdrop thanks to hit movies such as the Clint Eastwood thriller Sudden Impact (1983) and the vampire flick The Lost Boys (1987), plays a key supporting role in several recent high-profile Hollywood projects — including the Transformers action spin-off Bumblebee and the Jordan Peele horrorfest Us. The combined worldwide box office gross of the latter two motion pictures exceeded $721 million as Amusement Today went to press.

Marq Lipton, vice president of marketing and sales for Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, told AT that the park’s film industry appeal crosses geography and generations. “It is the quintessential American boardwalk,” he said. “Production companies can use our location as a seaside park to represent any region of the county and, most importantly, any period of time. From the 1920s to the present day, our park has it.”

Allowing Hollywood to shoot onsite is not always a given. The park is mindful of its image and requires review and approval of script portions dealing with any aspect of the property and city.

“We do this to see how they portray Santa Cruz and the Boardwalk,” Lipton said. “Our biggest concerns relate to cleanliness and safety, as well as presentation and hospitality of employees. We will refuse a project that portrays us negatively in those areas.

“We realize that if the film is successful, having our name as the location will likely be a positive. We’d be much more likely to refuse a movie that focused on a more realistic subject. In other words, we don’t have a problem with zombies and vampires — the public can separate reality from fiction — but we’d take issue with crime and terrorism.”

While being part of a private company can allow Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk more decision-making freedom than major corporate theme park chains, whose properties typically are shown unidentified and/or altered in movies, music videos and television shows, Lipton acknowledged that the park owner Santa Cruz Seaside Co. has tightened up its production permission contracts.

“We had a major movie filmed here in the 1980s that referred to a crime that took place ‘under the Boardwalk.’ We wanted to refuse the film because of that, but the producers said they would move the incident to another location. When the movie came out, [the scene] was still in, and we found out that our signed agreement didn’t cover our complaint. We have a different agreement now.”

With production crews come varying degrees of disruption, Lipton acknowledged, and safety is always the park’s top priority.

“We instruct crews to obey all instructions from Boardwalk staff or they will be asked to leave, and our ride mechanics have ultimate say on what is permissible on or around rides. Our contract states the specifics of what is approved to avoid any gray areas. For major films like Us and Bumblebee — both were filmed last September on weekdays, when rides weren’t operating — sections of the park were closed to the public. Our park is open-gate, so extra security is required.”

Bringing its location-shoot popularity full circle, the park recently hosted the filming of scenes for a Lost Boys TV series pilot for the CW Network. “We anticipate that if the show is picked up, we may receive another request to film at our location,” said Lipton, adding that, due to customer demand, the park hosts screenings of the original Lost Boys movie on the beach every summer.

On the attractions front, two new flat rides are debuting at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk by the end of June: Twirlin’ Teacups, a Zamperla Midi Tea Cup, and Crazy Surf, a Technical Park Super Miami. The Laser Tag game inside the Neptune’s Kingdom arcade has been upgraded from top to bottom, including a new façade and LED arena.

Also, until Aug. 16, the park is running a photo / illustration / creative writing contest celebrating the 95th anniversary of the Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster, a National Historic Landmark.

This article appears in the JUNE 2019 issue of Amusement Today.
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