Ms. Dillon is a briskly smart, attractive young woman with an important job. She not only has to secure venues ranging from where to park the equipment trucks to film sites, she's got to cool out objecting locals.
Last Wednesday, Ms. Dillon held a show and tell session before some 60 skeptical Valleyites at the Boonville Fairgrounds Dining Hall.
Some people were unhappy with the idea of a movie glorifying crazy driving in an area where crazy driving can propel you over the side and so far down in a gulch you might not be found for days.
Other people were unhappy that they hadn't been given an opportunity to comment on the project before the County's permit was issued.
Supervisor Hamburg was unhappy that people were unhappy, characterizing their unhappy objections as predictable negativity about the movie industry in general, about commerce in general, or as people automatically opposed to everything and everyone who wants to make money.
But no one present said anything remotely critical of free enterprise and were struck by the Supervisor's scattershot condemnation of this project's critics, all of whom expressed a range of legitimate concerns. (Credit the savvy Ms. Dillon for getting the Supervisors to sign the permission slips before the pesky public was heard from.)
Of course there were plenty of people present who were happy that Need For Speed was doing some filming in the bucolic Anderson Valley because the movie company will bring money to town (and to the County), bring it and spend it.
Presenters included Ms. Dillon and Carlos Grullon of NFS (Need For Speed) Productions, plus Coast Chamber of Commerce film expediter, Deborah DeGraw, along with Kelly Schultz of Caltrans.
The latter two were all for Need For Speed.
Filming in Mendocino County will take place over eleven days of shooting beginning on Highway 128 on Tuesday, April 2. Three of these days will see closures on Highway 128 and four closures of varying length on Highway 253.
The roads need to be closed while Hollywood stunt people careen fancy cars up and down the hills as helicopters chase them from above with expensive cameras.
Ten-year-old boys, and adults with the minds of 10-year-olds, will love this thing to pieces when it appears on the big screen.
No way any of us are likely to keep all this straight, but for those of you who want to try, the schedule looks like this:
Highway 128 will be closed on Tuesday, April 2nd from milemarkers 17-20, milemarkers 29-30, and milemarkers 12-14.
On Thursday, April 11th, and Friday, April 12, Highway 128 will be closed between from the Coast to milemarker 14. The April 2 closures will see intermittent traffic control for no longer than 20 minutes from milemarker 17-20 and at milemarker 30 and milemarker 12-14.
On Thursday, April 11th and Friday, April 12th, Highway 128 near the coast will be closed, and closed from Flynn Creek Road to opposite Pebs House near the mouth of the Navarro from 5am to 9pm.
Ms. Dillon handed out revised film schedules as the meeting began, changing the Highway 253 closure dates from two weekdays to a weekend — April 6th and April 7th from 6am until 3pm. After 3pm there will be intermittent traffic control with delays not exceeding 20 minutes. On Tuesday, April 9th and Wednesday, April 10th, there will be intermittent traffic control between milemarkers 10 and 1 (on the Boonville side of 253).
Ms. Dillon insisted there would be no more schedule changes unless there is bad weather. If so, Need For Speed will keep us abreast via radio announcements.
If you need to get to Ukiah from Anderson Valley during the full closures, you'll have to drive to deep Yorkville and over Mountain House Road to get there. Or trek east through Comptche and then east on Orr Springs Road, a beautiful drive if you aren't in a hurry.
If you live between milemarker 11 and Robinson Creek Bridge on the Ukiah side of Highway 253 you'll be issued a parking placard and will be able to travel in and out of the closure area towards Ukiah only. Non-emergency traffic will not be allowed to cross over Highway 253 to Boonville while the closure is in place. If you do not have your parking placard with you, a driver's license or document displaying your address will suffice. People living between the Robinson Creek Bridge and Highway 101 will be able to travel freely from their pot patches, er, homes back and forth to Ukiah.
Residents living on the Boonville side of the Highway 253 closure between milemarkers 0 and 6 will also get placards (or show driver's licenses/address paperwork) and will be able to travel in and out of the closure area toward Boonville but not to Ukiah while the car chases are being filmed.
During all closures, emergency vehicles and persons with emergencies will be allowed through the filming area. “A small army” of CHP officers, paid for by the film company, will be on hand during all filming to enforce the closures and handle emergencies.
The filming, as mentioned, involves a series of car chases, low-flying helicopters and “controlled stunts.” There will be no filming on private property. All of it will occur on Caltrans right-of-way or, as a Big Orange person put it, “our property.”
Production assistants, aka local kids (we hope) looking to pick up some easy money, will stand at driveways leading to closed roads to prevent unknowing locals from barging on to the roads while the epic is being recorded.
“The helicopters” — dope growers please note — “may fly closer than 500 feet from you or your property,” cautioned Ms. Dillon, master of logistics, “but at no time will you be put in any danger.”
Ms. Dillon said Need For Speed has all its permits in place. Caltrans still had a few final details to iron out but Big Orange, apparently dazzled by its role in expediting a real moving picture, by golly, was expected to issue its okey-dokey any day now.
Grace Minton of Boonville began the questioning at last week's meeting by saying that everyone in the Valley knows about the problems with speeding on local roads, and they probably know someone who has been killed in a speed-related auto accident. Ms. Minton reminded the group that back in March of 2004 four young vineyard workers were killed speeding through Philo on Easter Sunday morning. “How can you justify this?” Ms. Minton asked, receiving a round of applause from a number of attendees.
Ms. Dillon drily responded that she was present to deal with the logistics of the film, not the content, and that she was aware that Anderson Valley is not the only place where people have died in car accidents.
Several people wondered why the County hadn't held meetings on the project before the permit was issued, and why the film crew hadn't consulted locals before making their road closure plans on roads which are important to local traffic. “We could have suggested some alternatives,” said Benna Kolinsky. “The way you're doing it affects our daily activity, our jobs, our work.”
(The upper reaches of lightly traveled Manchester Road or the even more lightly traveled Fish Rock Road have all the scenic beauty of the Ukiah Road, which is kinda ho-hum in the scenic department if you ask me.)
That was when Supervisor Hamburg loudly broke in: “Blame the Board of Supervisors. Blame me!” Hamburg declared in a voice that made it sound as if he were prepared for full and immediate martyrdom.
But no one was looking for anyone to immolate; they merely wanted to know why there had been no prior notices or hearings on the production plans.
When Dave Severn tried to say something, Hamburg told him to “Be quiet!” (A liberal says “Be quiet,” a conservative says, “Shut the bleep up.” Both have murder in their hearts.
Hamburg continued that the movie was a valid County-approved project, but he admitted that the Board of Supervisors had not communicated “very much” prior to the permit being approved because, Hamburg said, the supervisors have “adopted a policy on movie productions.”
Which is that movie productions get automatic approval (ever since the really stupid movie “Practical Magic” picked up their cameras and went to Washington State because some people complained that taking over the Mendocino Headlands State park for at least six months was a bit much).
Hamburg then went into full Chamber of Commerce mode, noting the County's “shaky economy.”
“Highway 253 is one of the most beautiful roads in the state,” Hamburg declared, “and moviegoers will see the beauty.”
Much of Highway One is purtier, as is Fish Rock, Manchester, Orr Springs, deep Sherwood, the Mina Road out of Covelo, Mendocino Pass, Peachland Road, and my driveway.
Hamburg said the gripemeisters didn't understand the County's economic woes, reminding the group that Mendo's biggest legal industry is tourism so everybody should “be quiet” and get on board. “Mendocino County has a reputation of being against everything,” said Hamburg, “so we have to show our interest in the dollars that will come into local motels and restaurants. Business is drying up. The public should not interfere.”
We obey, Generalissimo!
Ms. Dillon, trying to reply to the complaint about the movie's speeding car theme, said the film was a co-production with Disney and will be rated PG-13. “It is not intended to glorify speeding,” she said, “and the characters will have real-life consequences.”
Ms. Kolinsky repeated, “But you forgot us; you forgot the community.”
Gene Herr asked if there was a County staff report on the closures of Highway 128 and 253, and if the Board of Supervisors was aware of these closures.
Hamburg insisted the Board was “totally aware — I was aware, so blame me,” Hamburg said, again ascending the cross.
“This is just another indication of how we oppose things,” said Hamburg, becoming more agitated. “There's always a reason to turn down any project. Mendocino County is famous for turning down everything. We can tell the film industry not to come here and we can tell Ms. DeGraw's office to close.”
No one had suggested anything of the sort.
Rebecca Johnson of Navarro said she had not been informed about the project until a flyer was placed at her gate. She was irritated that the Board of Supervisors had not done more to notify the public of what the film plans were. “There was a total lack of communication,” she said. “We had no say in this. We could have gone to a Board meeting if there had been a hearing on this.”
Hamburg repeated that the county needs as much business as it can get, and the film will bring a lot of business to the County.
Production assistant Carlos Grullon said that the filming would begin in about a month — a big rig equipment hauler is already in Boonville — and this meeting was to give everyone a chance to prepare for it. Grullon said he understood the frustration, but the movie company had made extensive efforts to notify people.
Ms. Johnson said the problem was not with the film company; it was with the Board of Supervisors and their failure to invite the public to a discussion of a disruptive project before the permit was issued.
At least half the room thought the project was boffo simply for financial reasons, delighted that hotels and restaurants would get more business. Several people noted that the film would also make a significant contribution to the County Fair, presently facing large-scale budget cuts at the state level.
The film representatives said they might drop $3-$5 million into the area based on their estimates from other outback film shoots. Crewmembers will spend money and rent rooms and the County will receive some added bed tax. And, as one man noted, “The movie will be a postcard about the beauty of Mendocino County.”
In a resigned tone of voice, someone lamented, “The horses are out of the barn” and the movie was proceeding, but that the production company could at least donate some money to the local ambulance service and the Community Services District.
Ms. Dillon said that they were interested in doing just that but made no specific commitment.
Monica Fuchs of Philo thought that of course there would be some inconvenience, but that on balance the inconvenience wasn't major inconvenience.
When asked why they needed to close the roads for an entire weekend, Ms. Dillon replied that the closures “are essential for safety. Our intention is to get our shots and move on, not to keep the roads closed for any longer than necessary.”
Mrs. Herr wanted to know what the requirements were for Caltrans to issue road closure permits. No one had an answer. Caltrans' Schultz said his job was to coordinate the approved permits, not to review them. “The [Caltrans] permits are processed in Los Angeles,” he noted. The question of what the criteria were for approving a film permit on Caltrans roads was “not my department. I'm only involved in the planning after the permit is approved.” Schultz added that the film closures were not really very different from ordinary road construction closures.
Someone asked what kind of film credit Mendocino County or Anderson Valley would get? Ms. DeGraw replied that she was working on that.
Several people wanted to know if the helicopters would be flying low over their houses. Ms. Dillon insisted that their pilots would follow FAA rules.
Dave Severn said that it looked to him like the project was “slid through under the radar” without adequate notification and that the permit process was flawed.
Ms. Dillon, a pretty tough cookie, was not about to tolerate any guff from a bunch of bush hippies or whoever these people were. She replied that DreamWorks didn't need to hold any meetings, but that they had called this meeting specifically to let people know what was going on. She also noted that her production company tried to be as “green” as possible in their filming, recycling what they can and using biodiesel generators and vehicles where possible.
Ms. Dillon also said they had not had any accidents during the production of any of their films and they had no specific contingency plans other than the availability of the off-duty CHP officers as well as having their own ambulance on scene.
By the end of the meeting the complaints had evaporated as people realized that the combination of DreamWorks and Mickey Mouse could not be stopped at this late stage.
Benna Kolinsky, summed up a common view: “I guess this is happening, but the attitude here sucks. It's as if we have no rights at all to comment on these plans.” ¥¥