"The SoCal Scene" Features the Kemper Campbell Ranch in Oscar Special About "Mank"

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Academy Award-winning Mank includes scenes at historic ranch where events actually took place

The Kemper Campbell Ranch welcomed reporter Melvin Robert and the crew from Spectrum1's The SoCal Scene to discuss the ranch's "role" in Netflix's Mank. Directed by David Fincher and starring Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried, Mank tells the story of the writing of Citizen Kane. Going into last week's Oscars 2021 ceremony, Mank led the field with ten nominations. The film took home two Academy Awards -- Best Cinematography (Erik Messerschmidt) and Best Production Design (Donald Graham Burt and Jan Pascale).

Lily Collins and Gary Oldman shooting scene for "Mank" at Kemper Campbell Ranch
Lily Collins, Gary Oldman shooting scene for "Mank"

It is noteworthy that a major movie is filmed at the ranch, but even more significant is that these true events are a cherished part of the ranch's history. Herman "Mank" Mankiewicz actually was a guest at the Kemper Campbell Ranch in 1940. Accompanied by John Houseman, he stayed at the guest ranch for nearly 3 months, during which time he penned the majority of the screenplay that would become Citizen Kane. In those days, the ranch was a popular destination for Hollywood stars. A known alcoholic, Mank was sent to the guest ranch because the owners, Kemper and Litta Belle Campbell, did not allow alcohol.

"My grandparents...wouldn't allow drinking at the ranch," co-owner Scott Campbell told The SoCal Scene. "John Wayne was thrown off the ranch for drinking. All these Hollywood people were coming and got to understand that that was the rule. So Orson Welles sent Mankiewicz up to stay sober and get Citizen Kane written."

William Doyle on shooting "Mank" at Kemper Campbell Ranch
Image from @KemperCampbellRanch Instagram

As we shared previously from Indiewire, Fincher's longtime location manager, William Doyle, felt strongly that the movie should be filmed at the ranch where the events took place.

“The place hasn’t changed,” Doyle told the Daily Press. “You get over that hill into that ranch, and you’re in this tiny time capsule. Here you are where Herman Mankiewicz really sat, and stood and wrote this story.”

The SoCal Scene's Oscar Special covered various locations in Mank throughout Southern California. The recreation of period-correct Los Angeles sets required an incredible attention to detail by Set Decorator Jan Pascale and production designer Donald Graham Burt. Burt remarked to the Desert Sun that his team benefited from the preserved history and character of the Kemper Campbell Ranch. The adobe Main House, built in1929, retains its charm and authenticity. Designed and built by architect John Byers, who was renowned for his use of the Spanish Colonial revival style, the home was built of adobe bricks made from materials on the ranch that were dried in the sun.

“When you go there and you see the building and the materials that are in it, you really feel all those materials were harvested within the nearby region,” Burt said.

Despite the character and preserved nature of the ranch, the Netflix team did a great deal of work to make the property "period correct" prior to filming. Air conditioner units and exposed conduit lines were removed from the exterior of the Main House, lighting fixtures were changed, and the concrete patio was replaced with flagstone. Paved roads were made to look like dirt roads, and the fence in the pasture was altered to appear like a 1940s fence. The Netflix crew even treated the wood throughout the exterior of the Main House to make it appear refreshed and new, as it would have only a decade after it was built.

"[Fincher] came in, and he just made it back to what it was in 1940," said Campbell. "They just did everything they could to make the adobe buildings look like they were supposed to look."

Kemper Campbell Ranch sign designed by "Mank" team
New sign at ranch, designed by "Mank" team

In the opening scene of Mank, a caravan of vehicles arrives at the ranch, passing a sign that reads, "North Verde Ranch." That was the name of the ranch when the Campbells bought it in 1924. The family would rename it "Kemper Campbell Ranch" in 1943, after the Campbells' oldest son Kemper Jr. was killed in a plane crash during World War II. In a later scene, Oldman and Seyfried sit on an old Cottonwood tree. When set designers approached Campbell asking if they could take the tree with them in order to finish shooting the scene, Campbell struck them a deal.

"I traded them for a Kemper Campbell Ranch sign done in the same way as the sign at the beginning of the movie. I traded an old, dead Cottonwood tree for this sign. It's my favorite transaction."

Watch the segment from The SoCal Scene's Oscar feature on the Kemper Campbell Ranch.

Desert wedding at Kemper Campbell Ranch
Ranch wedding - Alicia Danielle Photography

All of these improvements to the property can be enjoyed by guests. The ranch is a venue for weddings and events, and the Main House is available as vacation rental for large groups and family reunions. One thing that doesn't come through in the black and white Mank is the greenery of the ranch. Situated on an oasis in the desert along the Mojave River, the ranch boasts views of green pastures, Joshua trees, a Cottonwood forest, and a mountain backdrop. For those who seek the beauty of a desert wedding, or who want to enjoy a relaxing getaway with friends at the charming Main House, the Kemper Campbell Ranch is the ideal Southern California destination.

The SoCal Scene is a weekly show on Spectrum News 1 about what to do around Southern California.

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