Dodge truck fiasco triggers permitting change

In response to a controversial Dodge truck commercial gone wrong, the county’s film commissioner will be notified of film shoot permit applications and will sign off on them.

Photo by Matt Hinton

Photo by Matt Hinton

Some residents were puzzled and angered when a crew shooting Dodge truck promotional photos near Moonstone Beach on May 1 discovered the limitations of the vehicle’s off-road worthiness. In a scene destined for the cutting room floor, the new truck was driven into a rocky area of the waveslope, where it got stuck and became submerged in an oncoming tide.

The truck remained halfway under water until the next morning, when it was towed out of the surf.

County officials said only a minimal amount of vehicle fluids were leaked but many residents were critical of an apparent lack of oversight of the crew’s activities.

Photo by Matt Hinton

Photo by Matt Hinton

And when County Film Commissioner Cassandra Hesseltine gave her annual report at the May 21 Board of Supervisors meeting, she dealt with the issue directly, telling supervisors that the “permit glitch” has led to a change of procedure.

A county permit was approved to do the shoot but Hesseltine wasn’t notified. Part of her job is to work with film crews and mediate problems and said she said she has to be part of the permitting process to do it.

From now on, it will be a requirement, she continued.

“There’s nothing that tells them they have to tell me about a project – well, not to date, there will be now,” Hesseltine said. “That definitely has reared its ugly head.”

She added that it’s “assumed and polite procedure” for film crews to notify her of their plans but permitting agencies aren’t required to. “I’m going to make it so that we now have me sign off on it or at least approve via e-mail,” she said, adding that it will allow her to be “part of the process if issues do arise.”

Photo by Jack Durham

Photo by Jack Durham

Board Chairman Ryan Sundberg asked if crew members of the ill-fated Dodge truck shoot followed permit conditions. Hesseltine said they did not.

“They were told their boundaries and told not to go around the head,” she continued. “Whether that was a misunderstanding or blatant disregard, I haven’t been able to get that answer.”

The crew was “held accountable” and fined, said Hesseltine. The tally of fines included being charged for an extra day of filming and compensating the cost of extracting the incapacitated truck and cleaning up after it.

The Dodge crew’s recklessness is a stark contrast to the careful approach used in last year’s filming of the major Hollywood film “After Earth” in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Supervisor Estelle Fennell said there had been concern about it but the film crew’s light-touch production methods in the park’s old growth forests “set a new bar” for conscientious filming.

Hesseltine agreed, saying that the crew “worked diligently for months” with the park’s managers. Noise issues and potential impacts to species like marbled murrelet were all addressed along with the logistics of having a 300-member crew work in the forest, she said.

Some of the protective measures included tying up cables so they could be aligned with pathways and taping ferns so they wouldn’t be trampled, said Hesseltine.

“It was amazing, the job they did – and they did set a bar, a standard for how to film in the old growth,” she continued.

Hesseltine reported that the filming of “After Earth” brought $5 million of revenue into the local economy. She said film and commercial productions have brought in $700,000 from July 2012 to April 2013.