By Mark La Ciura
contributing writer 

Movies you did not know were filmed in Kern County


April 13, 2024

Mark La Ciura.

Our Tehachapi and Mojave wind turbines are seen in countless films.

Kern County has been the filming location to a list of fantastic and well-known, and not-so-fantastic and not-so-well-known flicks. The 1939 film "Stagecoach" is at the top of the list for me, as well as the 1959 film "North by Northwest."

I think most film buffs will remember a low-level flying sequence done with a "crop duster" biplane filmed on Garces Highway in Bakersfield. This famous Hitchcock film was shot in October of 1958.

Early on the producers wanted to film this sequence in a desolate area like Iowa, but it did not fly with Hitchcock's vision.

From my experience working with the motion picture industry for over 10 years, I can tell you the film crews love shooting close to where they can process film, so they can know they have something usable quickly. Kern County isn't too far from Hollywood. This was most common in the early days of film and why eastern Kern was a great location for all those early Western classic movies. Many Westerns were made in Red Rock Canyon and I remember one of the Star Trek movies using the famous canyon as the planet Vulcan.

Being near the industry base of operation sold the area to film makers.

To add a special note, I am seeing a movement to go back to widescreen film formats today. The 2024 Best Picture winner, "Oppenheimer" was shot on film. Director Christopher Nolan used an IMAX MKIII Reflex Camera. This IMAX MSM 9802 camera used a Panavision System 65 film camera with Hasselblad Panavision lenses. Hoyte van Hoytema was the cinematographer on this historic film. I should see this movie to add my two cents, but I think all the best movies have already been made, since we see so many remakes.

Now back to "North by Northwest." I know Wasco then and now is a mecca for good crop duster pilots. Crop duster pilot Bob Coe was hired to fly the biplane and the final sequence was combined with real film footage and studio shots. "North by Northwest" is a five-star film in my opinion.

Everyone thinks that filmmaker John Ford's benchmark film "Stagecoach" was only shot in Monument Valley, Utah. Yes, it was Ford's first filming location, but there were additional scenes shot in locations at the Kern River, near Kernville, and some cinematography done on the Muroc dry lake bed. This location became Edwards AFB and Rogers Dry Lake. The sequence near the end of "Stagecoach," where the coach is racing across the lake bed being saved by the troopers, may look familiar to some.

Filmmaker Orson Welles named John Ford as his favorite filmmaker and claimed that he studied "Stagecoach" over 40 times before directing his own film "Citizen Kane" (1941).

It seems I am always seeing local wind mills, Mojave Air & Space Port, and other locations in Kern County, in films over the last 20 years. It's fun to try to spot them.

Here are a few of the many films shot in Kern County: "Independence Day" (1996) at Mojave Air & Space Port; "Moonraker" (1979); "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977); "Blue Thunder" (1983); and "Speed" with Sandra Bullock (1994). The final scenes were filmed at Mojave Air & Space Port, including on the 10,000 foot runway. I really enjoy Sandra Bullock's work.

For more information about films shot in Kern County, search for film commission Kern County, film and TV credits at www.


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