For decades, Long Beach has been host to directors and world-renowned actors and actresses during the filming of movies, television shows and commercials. From “Abbott and Costello in Hollywood” to “Lethal Weapon” (the movie) to “Batman & Robin,” Long Beach has seen a lot.


For more than 30 years, John Robinson has been at the heart of bringing film crews to Long Beach – first through his work as a city photographer and then as a business owner when he opened Long Beach Locations.

John Robinson is pictured on the set of The CW’s “Jane the Virgin” on location at Sunnyside Cemetery in Long Beach. Other TV shows that film in Long Beach include HBO’s “Ballers” (starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and FOX’s “Lethal Weapon” (starring Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford). (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)


Robinson, a Long Beach native, graduated from the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena in 1976. After graduation, he was a freelance photographer, focusing on medical photography.


“From open-heart surgeries to annual reports to doctor portraits to grin-and-grabs. I’d done it all, as far as hospital stuff,” Robinson said. “When managed care came in, stock photography became prevalent because people lost their budgets.”


In 1984, Robinson responded to a job opening as a City of Long Beach photographer. He quickly discovered that his new position also including playing the role of a film coordinator. However, he explained that the movie business was much slower at the time, so his job still consisted of 90% photography work.


During his tenure with the city, Robinson helped facilitate “Last Action Hero” (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger) in 1993; “Speed” (starring Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper and Sandra Bullock) in 1994; and “Tin Cup” (starring Kevin Costner and Rene Russo) in 1996, among other films, TV shows and commercials.


During the filming of “Man Trouble” in 1992, Robinson recalled taking Jack Nicholson to play Lite-A-Line, a combination of tic-tac-toe and pinball. He described the game as a form of gambling that was grandfathered in and remains in the city to this day because it is described as a game of skill rather than luck. In any case, when Robinson took the actor to play at the Pike, Nicholson won.


Robinson said he and the city came to an impasse in 1998 and parted ways. Shortly thereafter, with the knowledge he acquired and relationships he built within the film industry, Robinson opened Long Beach Locations.


“I worked as a location manager for a couple independent movies in between the city and Long Beach Locations, but it was enough to make me be convinced of Long Beach Locations,” Robinson said. “I live in Huntington [Beach], and to drive everywhere at four in the morning is not my cup of tea. So I wanted to stay local. I know Long Beach like the back of my hand, so it was a natural marriage.”


For a long time, Robinson said feature films left the area and were shot in other states to save money. However, in recent years, California has begun incentivizing filmmakers to bring operations back to the state. This had a big impact in bringing TV shows to the area. Between movies, TV shows and commercials, Robinson said the city has some type of filming up to three or four days per week.


“We had 80% of the locations in ‘Dexter,’ and that was a lot of fun. It was exciting to see how every episode led in. I only saw them filming bits and pieces, and I never knew what was going on until the episode came out,” Robinson said. “‘True Blood’ was at Alex’s Bar forever. Alex and Vivian became spoiled by ‘True Blood.’ It was just so recurring.”


Currently, “NCIS,” “Scorpion,” “Bosch,” “Jane the Virgin” and “Lethal Weapon” film scenes in Long Beach. Two Florida-based shows, “Ballers” (starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and “Rosewood” also film many scenes in Long Beach after leaving Florida to take advantage of California incentives.


Local bar Joe Jost’s is a very well-used location, according to Robinson. He said movies such as “Gone in 60 Seconds” (starring Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie) and “License to Wed” (starring Robin Williams) utilized the space, among others. Robinson said the bar has also been featured in commercials for every beer imaginable.


Robinson said he would be watching TV and pause a commercial to call his girlfriend into the room and point out where in Long Beach it was shot. About 90% of Long Beach Location’s business is commercials, according to Robinson. He explained this is due largely in part to the relative ease of obtaining a permit from the city.


“Long Beach is incredibly easy to film in. The City of Long Beach Film Office is the best. Tasha Day is awesome. They have a three-day film permit. They make it easy. The filmmaker loves it,” Robinson said. “Long Beach is film friendly and other communities aren’t, so you can spend all this money in Los Angeles or save a little money and come to Long Beach.”


May and June are slow months for Robinson’s business, so he said he uses the time to go fly-fishing – one of his favorite pastimes along with golf. He said nothing beats fly-fishing in Montana, but he will head up to the Sierra Mountains for shorter trips. Robinson explained that he prefers fly-fishing in rivers to fishing on boats because it is more tranquil and Zen.


The best part about being in the business is that no two days are the same, Robinson said. Every day he gets to work with different and creative people who describe scenes that need a location, which he said really gets his creative juices flowing.


“I enjoy what I do. Period. The negotiation part is fun. The creative part is fun. And the people I deal with are truly fun and creative people,” Robinson said. “Because I’ve been doing it so long, I’ve developed a lot of great relationships in the film business. I’m happy as a clam in the city.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.