Much of that began to change with the advent of the California On Location Awards (COLA). “The COLA program has been instrumental in raising awareness of what we do and how important our role is to any project,” says Duffy. The program honors entertainment industry location managers and production companies for their professionalism and accomplishments while filming on location in California. The awards salute the Location Professional and Location Team of the Year in the categories of commercials, music videos, episodic television and feature films. COLA also recognizes public employees for their excellence in facilitating productions. By all accounts, COLA has put a long-needed spotlight on the pivotal role and contributions of these location professionals.
The California On Location Awards event was conceived by Sheri Davis of the Inland Empire Film Commission (IEFC). As the director of the IEFC in 1994, she observed location managers and scouts in action and got to know many of them. Ever curious, Davis commented to her mentor Kim McNulty, then director of the Palm Springs Film Office, “These location managers [and scouts] have a big responsibility and they contribute so much to these productions. Why don’t [they] get more recognition for what they do on all these movies?” With no answer forthcoming, Davis decided it was time for a change.
To deliver her vision, Davis made plans with McNulty and Pam Powell, then deputy director of the California Film Commission (CFC), and through their determination, hard work and focus the California On Location Awards became the first awards show to recognize location professionals of the entertainment and commercial production industry. With the endorsement and support of the CFC, a team of film commission representatives was then formed and named as the Film Liaisons In California Statewide (FLICS), a non-incorporated ad-hoc committee. In 2005, FLICS became a nonprofit corporation and officially took the lead as the managing organization of COLA. Ray Arthur, then director of the Ridgecrest Regional Film Commission, stepped forward to serve as the first chairman of COLA and helped to establish its structure, parameters, award categories and panel of judges.
The first COLA Awards was more of a picnic event in a Long Beach field in 1995, and the next year’s COLAs took place in another field in Malibu’s Bluffs Park, which became known as “the mud bowl” after someone forgot to turn off the sprinklers. For the third event in 1997, Pasadena Film Commission Director Ariel Penn raised COLA’s profile by securing the beautiful Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena as the host venue. That show became a professional production with live-show Producer/Director Rajan Shandil bringing in sophisticated audio-visual elements. As the COLAs found its legs and began to thrive, several award categories were added to acknowledge the public employees who assist and facilitate filming in California.
Under the leadership of Davis and her team, COLA has since become a hot commodity. It’s now sought after by some of the most high-profile hotels and venues throughout the Los Angeles area, as the management of these venues became aware that they could showcase to significant decision makers in the entertainment industry. COLA host venues have included the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, Sheraton Universal, L.A. Marriott Downtown, Pacific Palms Resort, the luxurious and historic Millennium Biltmore, and the storied Queen Mary, where the City of Long Beach pulled out all the stops with a specially commissioned fireworks show. In 2010, the 16th annual COLA was a red-carpet celebrity event held in the Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. The program has certainly come a long way in 16 years!
Known for its gilded Hollywood history, the Beverly Hilton hosted a packed house with two legendary actresses, Joan Collins and Linda Gray, serving as Masters of Ceremony. Award presenters included entertainment industry notables as well as political dignitaries, such as L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl. Previous MCs for the COLAs include Actors Jill Whelan, Richard Masur, James Cromwell and Fred Willard, whose comedic quips brought down the house.
The lion’s share of COLA’s success is due to the strong leadership of the program’s three co-chairs –– Davis, Orange County Film Commissioner Janice Arrington and Pauline East, film liaison at the Antelope Valley Film Office –– who are all backed by a multitude of diligent volunteers. Of course, a high-quality awards show couldn’t exist without the support of numerous sponsors. COLA’s major financial supporters who were there very early on include the CFC, Teamsters Local 399, Association of Independent Commercial Producers, L.A. Film Office and Pacific Production Services. A majority of the major studios, including Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Studios, the Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros., have also lent their support, and industry organizations like the Location Managers Guild of America (LMGA) are loyal COLA sponsors. “The California On Location Awards is the first and remains the only formal recognition for location managers and scouts in this state or any other,” says LMGA President Lori Balton.
In 2010, COLA acquired the major international corporation UPS as a Diamond sponsor. “The United Parcel Service recognizes that film industry location professionals are significant and influential decision makers in the industry,” says UPS Executive Colleen Dellolio. “UPS is excited to become a sponsor of COLA as we engage and build marketing partnerships within the entertainment industry to reach out to production professionals who are a cornerstone of California’s economy.”
As the California On Location Awards heads into a promising future as a major Hollywood awards event, Davis has relinquished her co-chair position to pass the torch to Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A., the film permit office for the city and county of Los Angeles and other jurisdictions. Audley will share chairmanship duties with current Co-Chairs Arrington and East. “FilmL.A. is accepting the role of coordinator [and] facilitator for the COLAs in partnership with the FLICS organization,” says Audley, adding that the FilmL.A. staff will be available to handle multiple administrative duties for the program. “When Sheri Davis asked if FilmL.A. could take over coordination of the COLAs, we were both honored for the opportunity and humbled to follow the leadership that took the COLA Awards from an idea many years ago to this year’s incredible event at the Beverly Hilton. We look forward to working with past leaders of the event and all our colleagues at FLICS in continuing to build on the strong foundation that was built by Sheri, Pauline East and Janice Arrington.”
Continuing the COLA tradition of being recruited by the finest venues in Southern California, the Millennium Biltmore Hotel will host the 17th annual COLA Awards in October 2011. “We are truly honored to host the next California On Location Awards applauding the location professionals within the entertainment industry,” says Poleng Hong, Biltmore’s sales manager of sports, entertainment and filming. “We want to thank the Film Liaisons In California Statewide, the California Film Commission and FilmL.A. for the opportunity.”
COLA’s history has been written and the program has distinguished itself among other established Hollywood awards shows. As for what’s next, one line may sum it up best: “The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.”
16 Years of COLAsWritten by Richard McMillan
There was a time when the work of location professionals in the film and television industries was a mystery to people both inside and outside of the business –– and their important contributions to the production process were, in most cases, little appreciated. “Having been around almost since the inception of location managers, what we do has always been a rather strange ‘animal’ for the industry,” reflects Ed Duffy, veteran location manager and business agent for Teamsters Local 399. “The growing complexity of the job has not made it any easier to understand.”