Big studio feature films bring in revenue and the possibility of increased tourism, so elected officials don’t often say “no” when a production crew wants to use their town as a movie set. Fortunately, the process isn’t as disruptive as you might think.
Yes, public works implements traffic control measures such as rerouting, road closures, changes to road surfaces and signage, and setting up and removing cones and barricades. But production crews do much of the rest of the work, including communicating with residents and businesses that might be impacted.
In most cases, film crews are in and out before anyone notices.
Yolo County, Calif., is the site of Three Men and a Baby and season three of the HBO series Big Love. Production crews must obtain signatures from the California Highway Patrol, sheriff’s department, environmental health department, and local fire department before they can start filming. The permit application details right of way impacts, proposed road closures and dates, security provisions, traffic control plans, advanced notification signs for road closures, and verification that affected private property owners have been notified.
In addition to minimizing inconvenience to the public, permits protect local government in the event of property damage.
While Terminator Salvation was shooting in Bernalillo County, N.M., in 2008, a reverse mortar fired off and took out a large chunk of asphalt pavement. The movie crew contracted with a paving company licensed and registered to work in the county to repair the road, saving public works the headache and the county an unexpected expense.
“The crew just shows up one day with 50 people and they’re shooting a movie tomorrow. They kind of know what they want to do; if we say ‘no, we have this project scheduled,’ they’ll move and shoot at different locations to get what they need,” says Scott Hansen, public works director for Boulder City, Nev., the scene of several car commercials and music videos.
Anyone looking to film in Boulder City submits a special event application to the parks and recreation department that must be approved by a special events committee made up of Hansen, the parks and recreation director, fire chief, and police chief.
Production companies and public works departments work together to ensure that both sides are happy at the end of the day. Hansen recalls the committee turning down just one request, a proposal for an event similar to Burning Man, the annual weeklong community and arts fesitval.
“The department is first and the movie is second,” he says. “We’re engineers. We have projects planned ahead and we do our best to stick with our schedules.”