SLM Robin Citrin and team paint the town pink  for director Greta Gerwig’s take on the quintessential California girl

by Rachel Llewellyn

All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures, except as noted

From her inception in a Los Angeles garage workshop, Barbie’s iconic persona has been anchored to the sunny shores of Southern California. Created by Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler and introduced to store shelves in 1959, Barbie reflected a prosperous, optimistic postwar America and her carefree lifestyle rode a popular wave of West Coast beach and fashion culture to become the bestselling doll of all time. 

But the parallel universe of Barbie Land was more than a SoCal playscape for Barbie and her friends: It became a stage to explore feminist ideals and an incubator of shifting social values, where little girls could imagine themselves as grownups who pursue careers and advocate for their own interests. 

Greta Gerwig’s history-making Barbie movie, filmed partly on a London sound stage and also throughout Los Angeles County, offers a sweetly subversive exploration of the doll’s 65-year legacy that moves us—literally and figuratively—between worlds. Under the creative leadership of supervising location manager Robin Citrin/LMGI, the practical landscape work is a vital thematic piece of the film. 

“I was excited to work with a female director and feminist-driven material,” says Citrin. “Greta is a director, writer and an actress, and she relied on her production designer Sarah Greenwood to create this crazy pink Barbie world that was fantastic and imaginative. Taking Barbie into the real world with Greta and Sarah was a lot of fun. We used locations to play upon the incongruity of Barbie and Ken in real-world situations: Those neon figures that would normally blend into the Venice Beach environment, instead stuck out like sore thumbs.”

SLM Robin Citrin/LMGI

While Barbie’s aspirational origins and the existential messiness of the 21st century plays out in her journey between real and idealized spaces, Citrin’s professional origins are similarly aspirational: with a formal media education in radio, television and film, she’s built a widely lauded 38-year career. Her interest in location-based production was sparked by a post-college job that sent her around the country in search of content for a national lifestyle series on PBS. 

Robin Citrin/LMGI

“That was my foray into location scouting, as it were,” Citrin recalls. “I was scouting for people, not locations per se, but I developed that sense of travel and being able to go anywhere and figure out what I had to do in order to bring the story back.”

When college friend and location manager Mike Meehan/LMGI invited her to assist on a movie in San Francisco, the locations bug bit hard and within six months, she had moved to Los Angeles to work on films. Like Ruth Handler, Citrin had wisely positioned herself to ride a cresting wave as location work became a distinct production role. “It was at a time when location managers had just been accepted into the Teamsters union in Hollywood,” she says. 

Citrin embraced location management as an art form and a creative outlet, developing a talent for finding ways to meld practical venues on heavily art-directed and concept-driven films. She worked closely with production designers to translate creative ideas into actionable filming sites. “As a location manager, I feel the relationship with the production designer is extremely important. We spend a lot of time together and they are usually the conduit of information for the director.”

Citrin started honing her story-grounding skills early in her career, as location manager for Barry Levinson’s 1988 road trip dramedy Rain Man. “It was filmed in story order as a cross-country road trip. We shot in four different states, so we pieced together iconic symbols like the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge in Cincinnati, oil fields in Oklahoma, Las Vegas casinos and bright sunshine and palm trees in Los Angeles. Coupled with the tremendous acting, we knew we were making a great film.”

Citrin went on to transform Alabama into a surreal dreamscape for Tim Burton’s 2002 fantasy adventure Big Fish, building the sweeping truth-or-fiction tale into locations that blended gloomy southern gothic features with the warmth of memory sifted through magical realism. “Scouting with a visually graphic director like Tim was exciting. He joined us on the initial scouts, where we traveled for many weeks throughout the South and found the perfect environment in and around Montgomery, Alabama. At scout meals, Tim would often draw what he was looking for on a napkin. We’d then rush to grab his ‘doodles’ before they were cleared off the table and use them as our reference. 

“It was a potpourri of locations, each one more imaginative than the next. We made use of small towns, rivers, churches, town halls, woods. We created a circus, staged a parade and built a fantasy town on a small island. Big Fish was a fantasy, so it added to the joy of it all. You’re creating this world and finding these zany locations, and all those elements made it fun.” 

“What excites me the most as a location manager is to read the script and then, with the production designer, weave together the locations that fit the story. That period of exploration is the most fun and that relationship is invaluable.”


Citrin also worked with legendary production designer Dante Ferretti, a longtime creative partner to Martin Scorsese, to situate a sense of isolation and paranoia in Scorsese’s 2008 psychological drama Shutter Island. The suspense-driven storyline rose and fell like waves against the battered shores of its namesake island. “Marty Scorsese relies on the input of his designer, and Dante is a star in his own right. Between the two of them, I felt like I struck gold. Both have grand operatic styles and finding what the film needed was a tremendous challenge for me and my team. 

“Dante would draw these enormous murals of what he thought the locations would look like and then hand them to me and the art director saying, ‘This is what I want.’ For Shutter Island, Dante and I spent months searching for the perfect Asheville hospital, the movie’s main location. We went all over the Northeast, finding cliffs that would work and finding an island where we could actually film and dock our boats. We found the structures in Medfield, Massachusetts, and then pieced together multiple locations to create the island where the story took place. That was the exciting part, being able to put the pieces of the puzzle together and create that story.” 

Citrin’s ability to map abstract narratives by adapting to situational production design needs and styles would not only shape her creative philosophy for future projects but earn her a prestigious placement in the Production Designers Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 

Considering that the Academy only recently began admitting location professionals, and its exclusive and exacting standards only allow a handful of admissions yearly, Citrin’s membership reflects how highly her creative input is esteemed. “Production designers recognized the value of this relationship and agreed to include location managers in their branch of the Motion Picture Academy. I was invited to join in 2018 and as of this year, there are now 20 of us. I was thrilled; it definitely is an honor. It’s a huge accomplishment and a big step forward for our craft.”

Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken. Photo: Dale Robinette/© 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ready for Barbie

When executive producer Michael Sharp sent Robin the Barbie script in early 2022, she was well equipped to marry the story’s surreal elements with workable production venues. Sharp, who worked with Citrin on Cold Mountain and Jupiter Ascending, says that the tale would have suffered from a traditional rebate-driven approach. “I always felt strongly that that there is only one California, and Barbie is a California doll. We wanted to maintain the recognizable landmarks of L.A. where we could.” 

Citrin was tasked with finding real-world locations in Los Angeles and environs to mirror Barbie’s utopian toy universe erected on the London sound stage. Key UK-based production leads would fly in for a scout in February 2022, return to London to shoot the Barbie Land scenes, then revisit L.A. in early June to film in a dozen locations on a tight schedule during the summer in one of the busiest tourist spots in America. 

Citrin was ready to meet every big location ask in service to Gerwig’s story. “It was a challenge because we had to do everything by Zoom and Skype and WhatsApp. Greta is welcoming and she was receptive to suggestions, but she was writing and filming in London when we were preparing, so a lot of the decisions had to be made remotely.”

Photo: Mike Bryant

Planning Two Worlds, a World Apart

Greenwood, who teamed with set designer and longtime creative collaborator Katie Spencer to envision and craft Barbie’s “hermetically sealed world,” as she calls it, in London, took notes during the L.A. recce on landmarks and features to replicate. “Robin and her team were fantastic,” Greenwood says. “She had a really nuanced understanding of what was needed for the script. It just seemed to answer the counterpoint to Barbie Land really clearly. We were absolutely spoiled for choice, we had so many fantastic options. So, we’re cherry-picking from California and we’re taking it to Barbie Land. I loved pointing out the differences and similarities between the two worlds.”

The architecture and landscape of Palm Springs became a key design reference for the London set, borrowing from the desert community’s midcentury modern features, sun-bleached pastels, palm trees and surrounding mountains. 

To achieve the open, light-saturated graphic vibe that captures the childlike perspective of Barbie Land on a 360-degree indoor set, Greenwood embraced a different approach from the layered, shaded period films she’s won awards for like Atonement and Anna Karenina. “You’re working with a palette of about 15 colors. Literally no patina, no aging, nowhere to hide. Everything has to be finished within an inch of its life, and it has to look like a toy. It was truthfully one of the most philosophical and intellectual challenges I think we’ve ever had on a film to solve. It looks very simple now, but it was not simple to do at all, I can promise you.”

Barbie and Ken in Venice Beach

Barbie in Venice Beach 

Of all the beautiful beaches that dot the Southern California coast, Barbie landed in Venice. With its bustling boardwalk and eccentric vibe, Citrin feels that “it was perfect for the film to be in Venice and not any other place—it was calling to be Venice. Greta just felt that’s where they would land, so that was the only place to go.”

The biggest production challenge was organizing the Venice shoot just before the Fourth of July holiday. “The UK crew were coming for two days in the middle of the summer to film at the beach, which was a huge undertaking,” Citrin recalls. “Also added to the challenge is not having the accessibility of the director and the designer all the time, but we had good direction of what they needed and we sent lots of pictures in advance.”

“I had many, many late calls just to make sure that everything’s going on track,” Sharp says. “I could trust Robin, and she was happy with the feedback.”

Greenwood returned to work with the Los Angeles team in fleshing out design elements before filming, like a graffiti art wall on Venice Beach flanked by paint-splashed palms rising from the sand-like tikis—access to which was facilitated by a donation to the nonprofit that controls the wall. 

“Greta didn’t get to see everything until she got back here to shoot, but she had Sarah to rely on and trusted in whatever she had chosen,” says Citrin. 

KALM Dorion Thomas/LMGI, who had previously worked with Citrin on The Gray Man, employed his experience and prior contacts from working in the area over seven seasons with NCIS: Los Angeles. Thomas began initial scouting in January, spending months with his team mapping pedestrian traffic, weather and production space, while negotiating fiercely with dozens of Venice Beach vendors in a tourist hub notorious for its hustle culture. “It takes weeks and weeks to get people to trust you, and you have to keep developing that rapport until you get down to paperwork, so just knowing that process was really important.”

L-R: 1st AD Josh Robertson, director Greta Gerwig,
AD Rodrigo Prieto. Photo: Miranda Carnessale/LMGI

A tangle of municipal authorities govern Venice’s beachfront and harbors, parks, ocean waters, streets and properties, and the web of red tape was made even stickier by evolving COVID protocols and shortened government office hours. “There are a myriad of jurisdictions to coordinate with: L.A. City, L.A. County, beaches and harbors, rec and parks, to name a few,” Citrin says. “But Dorion was really on top of it and had the experience to plow through the hurdles.” 

“It was a good symbiotic relationship,” Thomas says. “Without Robin’s work overall, we couldn’t have done what we did.” 

KALM Leslie Thorson/LMGI operated as Citrin’s logistical arm and helped Thomas by completing vendor contracts, finessing permits, relaying information, researching locations and handling vendor payments. “The Venice people are small businesses and they want to make sure that they don’t get overlooked. So, we had a sort of payment menu depending on what we were asking them to do: using their property for multiple days, being a featured location as opposed to just being in the background, being closed or open or just opening early for us. 

“Robin was meeting extensively with the film office and with all these different jurisdictions and entities. She had so much to do and all these people to deal with, so she relied on me to make sure that what she wanted to happen was going to happen.”

Citrin’s team had to also secure precious real estate for parking, extras, crew and equipment. “We had 300-plus extras, we were shooting right in the heart of it all, and we were there in the busiest time of the year with all the crowds,” Thomas says. “We were a massive footprint and the logistics are really difficult, because it’s a lot of narrow alleyways and streets and there’s quite a bit of a challenge getting everything situated.” 

Citrin’s team kept a sailor’s eye on the weather during filming: A fickle coastal marine layer could muddy light levels, gusting winds could blow sand. For her part, Greenwood was struck by the textural shift after working on the pastel London set build for months. “Barbie Land has no elements: It has no air, water, electricity, fire, wind or fog. So, it was fantastic seeing all the other colors and seeing the grunge and the dirt and the patina and light and wind and air and sea.”

Venice Beach’s human element dealt the crew more wildcards: merchants looking to squeeze a buck out of the production, unpredictable street performers and a steady stream of pedestrian visitors. “We had police on the bike paths temporarily stopping bicyclists and rollerbladers, who were so annoyed,” Citrin says. Police officers familiar with the neighborhood helped deter less cooperative locals, but as curious crowds grew larger, the paparazzi inevitably showed up. 

“Dealing with the paparazzi was one of the biggest challenges of doing the film in Los Angeles, but it paid off,” Citrin says, referring to the viral photos of Margot Robbie and costar Ryan Gosling rollerblading through Windward Plaza in highlighter-neon spandex, a clever marketing accident that sparked popular interest in the film. “That picture of the two of them rollerblading down the boardwalk was priceless.” 

Santa Monica

Barbie goes to Santa Monica, Century City and Long Beach

Robin was tenacious in winning access to several key shooting locations in Santa Monica, a costly and restrictive place to film. The crew got approval to shut down a full block of Wilshire Boulevard in the middle of a weekday to nail a sweeping mid-street crane shot for Barbie’s final scene, captured directly across the street from the Pacific Ocean. 

“There was a lot of stuff that sort of came together at the last minute,” Thomas says. “Greta wanted certain things, and our job as location people is to offer them things that we know we can get. It was a lot of work, a lot of back-and-forth.”

Santa Monica City Hall. Photo: DP Rodrigo Prieto

Citrin also went to bat to secure the location for the poignant bus stop scene outside Santa Monica City Hall, a blocky 1939 art deco building with expansive landscaped lawns that was scouted by Thomas and transformed into the Venice Police Department. The bus stop had to be constructed, shot and torn down in record time, the day before the Fourth of July Parade on Main Street. 

“It looks great on camera, but it was one of the hardest things for us logistically,” Thomas says. More Barbie action was captured in Tongva Park across the street. “Robin consistently worked with the studio and the city of Santa Monica,” Thomas says. “The reality is, without her outreach, we couldn’t have done what we did—and it worked out really well.”

Photo: DP Rodrigo Prieto

Citrin’s talent for curating environments also helped the movie execute inside jokes for Angelenos, like Ken discovering his masculinity in Century City—a sleek glass-and-steel business and commercial campus crammed with swaggering consumerism, Hummers, gym rats and business bros. 

“Bringing Century City to life with all these patriarchal characters was just fantastic—everything is extreme,” Greenwood says. Adds Thorson, “We built a little gym where the Annenberg Space for Photography used to be, and we also added horses!” During initial filming, the area was largely deserted due to COVID, but when crews returned the following April to shoot additional footage, they had to film on a Saturday as offices began to fill with returning workers. 

Barbie faces some harsh truths when she meets a group of high school girls in a scene filmed at Paul Revere Charter Middle School, just a mile or so from the beach. “The school district schedules construction projects during the summer when the students aren’t there, and they warned us of the possibility,” Citrin says. “And of course, that’s exactly what happened. All the sidewalks were torn up because they were repaving them for handicap accessibility, and Sarah had the brilliant idea to have the construction department skin over all the sidewalks so we would be able to walk and film on them. Problem solved!” 

Photo: DP Rodrigo Prieto

Although Mattel’s actual building is nearby El Segundo, Citrin presented the Bank of America Financial Center to capture the hard-driving machismo of the toy company’s fictional headquarters. The towering downtown L.A. skyscraper is fronted by the Four Arches, an imposing 63-foot-tall orange steel sculpture wrought by famed artist Alexander Calder. 

Second unit location manager Darrin Lipscomb, who managed filming in Long Beach, shut down sections of its downtown, including Ocean Boulevard and sections of the major artery Shoreline Drive to film the car chase as Gloria, Sasha and Barbie flee from Mattel’s corporate goons. “If you’re going to do a classic L.A. movie, get a car chase in there,” Greenwood laughs.

A Creative Adventure

As Barbie’s production tale unfolds, one idea resonates: We don’t get cinematic moments like this without a team of people who are fully creatively invested in every aspect of the story. Citrin’s artistry in facilitating the film’s gritty, textured Los Angeles landscapes offers a vital counterpoint to the airless plasticity of Barbie’s pop-Eden. 

As fans reposted behind-the-scenes photos, threw themed parties and replicated Barbie and Ken outfits for Halloween costumes before the film’s release, it became clear that fiction was bleeding into real reality too: People were interacting with the movie like it was a toy itself, seeing themselves reflected in its characters’ journeys, extrapolating its themes to their own events and spaces and lives, and becoming invested not just in viewing the finished product but in the craft, intent and mythology behind building Barbie’s cinematic world. 

“I was really proud that we were able to pull off some crazy stuff,” Thorson says. “Robin had to do amazing things and in terms of location managers, she just does not give up or take no for an answer. I had a chance to see her style of working and I really appreciated her. She’s one of the best location managers I’ve ever worked with.”

Barbie resonated with so many different demographics, I’m thrilled to have been associated with it,” Citrin concludes. “It’s one of the top movies that I’ve worked on and it’s been a fabulous experience. All the key people were great, I had a fantastic team. Greta was very welcoming and you wanted to do what you could for her. I’ve been fortunate to work with some talented, fabulous directors and production designers who are really visionary. Over so many years, it doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it’s incredibly rewarding.”


Robin Citrin/LMGI – SLM
Darrin Lipscomb – 2nd Unit Manager
Leslie Thorson/LMGI – KALM
Dorion Thomas/LMGI – KALM
Miranda Carnessale/LMGI – KALM
Sonia Villerias/LMGI – KALM
Robert Swartwood/LMGI – KALM
Julianne Eggold – KALM
Michael “Malibu” Bryant – KALM
David Kaufman – KALM
Juanita-Victoria Goode – ALM
Jonathan Diaz – ALM