Netflix's 'Rim of the World' Built Their Own JPL In A Pomona Gym
Screenwriter Zack Stentz was dropping off one of his kids at summer camp near Big Bear. He looked out over the Southern California landscape and had a vision. It's that moment that led him to write Netflix's new movie Rim of the World, inspired by that camp, which sits along the real-life Rim of the World Highway.
"I was driving back," Stentz said, "and looking at the magnificent views that you get from that highway of the whole Inland Empire and L.A. Basin stretched out in front of you — and then imagining what that would be like as a war zone."
The next step: thinking about what the kids at that camp might have to do if they were pulled into that war. And maybe some aliens should be involved too, for good measure.
His idea evolved into The Goonies meets Independence Day, with some Stand By me vibes, according to Stentz. This isn't Stentz's first sci-fi rodeo — he's , worked on TV shows like The Flash and Fringe, as well as movies including X-Men: First Class and Thor.
Rim of the World, directed by McG, is about four kids at summer camp who must help fight an alien apocalypse — oh, and all the cell phones have gone dead. The campers end up with the key to stop the invasion, but they have to travel over 70 miles from the San Bernardino Mountains, through the Inland Empire, to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to save the day.
Unlike a lot of entertainment set in one location but shot somewhere else, the movie was actually made in SoCal.
"The movie is intensely based in Southern California geography," Stentz said. "Especially in earlier drafts of the script, you could almost chart mile by mile where they are. ... So it would have been very bizarre to have to have shot that in Vancouver or Atlanta, where none of the geography looks even remotely like what we needed it to look like."
But JPL wouldn't let the production film on their campus. So the Rim production designers made their own JPL. They built a set at a gymnasium in Pomona, and filmed other scenes at the L.A. Center Studios. That building has the same mid-century modern architecture as JPL, according to Stentz, helping to give it the vibe they were looking for.
In the Pomona gymnasium, the team built a re-creation of JPL's Space Flight Operations Center — the command center that communicates with deep space probes. They spent three-and-a-half weeks shooting there.
Rim of the World even received state tax credits for filming locally, becoming one of the first Netflix movies to do so. They landed those tax credits, in large part, for shooting outside the standard thirty-mile studio zone surrounding Hollywood, where most locally shot content is made.
Much of the movie was shot at a shuttered government building, the Lanterman Developmental Center. The production also spent a week in Mammoth. Other local locations included a dry river bed filled with boulders in the Hansen Dam complex and the Vista Hermosa Park in Angelino Heights (with a view of downtown L.A.).
The movie's a definite throwback to '80s kid adventure films — but unlike the obvious comparison of Stranger Things, the vibe is less rooted in nostalgia.
"It's an inevitable comparison, because Stranger Things is the big piece of popular culture that draws on the same sources," Stentz said. "But at the same time ... I very consciously chose to set it in 2019, and not in the 1980s."
Stentz said that he'd heard that filmmakers couldn't set the same kind of kids adventure in the present, because modern kids no longer have unstructured time to hang out and explore, thanks to smartphones. So Stentz said he decided to shut down the cell networks in his alien apocalypse, rendering the phones useless, and really putting these kids on their own.
"I like to think that this is very sneaky advocacy [for] free-range parenting," Stentz said.
Netflix has taken on making more of the mid-budget movies that don't get made as often by traditional studios anymore, which Stentz said made Rim of the World a good fit for the streaming platform.
"It's not a 5-million-dollar found-footage horror movie," Stentz said. "It's a medium-budget movie that has lots of spectacle and action, but isn't wall-to-wall, cut to the White House, cut to Air Force One."
Next up for Stentz is an animated show based on a big franchise, as well as an original TV show that's currently being developed with super-producer Greg Berlanti. He also has more original feature films in the works. If enough people watch Rim of the World this weekend, Stentz said he may have more Netflix movies on the way.
"This Memorial Day weekend, you can go out and see Aladdin, or you can press a button and watch something that I think you'll find every bit as entertaining and satisfying as a big studio movie, without leaving your home," Stentz said.
Rim of the World is available on Netflix now.