Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Camera. Action. $5 Million?

Posted on Tue, Nov 13, 2012 at 10:28 AM

"In a small town in Northern California on the coast. Crew has invaded the town like roaches. We're everywhere. People here are friendly."

-- M. Night Shyamalan on Twitter, April 22

They came. They scouted the land. They returned and created a bustling Hollywood set in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. And reportedly, they left behind $5 million. But we don't know yet just where.

For a later location shoot, in Moab, Utah, the makers of the sci-fi flick After Earth spent $400,000 for five days of shooting, reported Jeff Richards of the Moab Times-Independent. That included lodging and food during six weeks of preparations and five days spent shooting.

Here in Humboldt, for roughly twice as long -- nine days of shooting plus pre-shoot scouting trips -- the filmmakers reportedly spent nearly 10 times that much.

Humboldt County Film Commissioner Cassandra Hesseltine says she was given the $5 million figure by a Sony representative. An official detailed expenditure breakdown will be filed on a form required by the California Film Commission. That form is expected shortly after Thanksgiving.

"I won't be getting details on breakdown of spending for a while," Hesseltine says. "There is a long process."

It's possible to reconstruct some of the expenses. About a half million for accommodations for a crew of 400-plus people and another half million for gasoline, for all those hour-long trips from Eureka to the shooting site near Weott. In Humboldt, much of the crew stayed at the Red Lion in Eureka, which also hosted the movie's temp production office. Will and Jaden Smith stayed at Bear River Casino's hotel. Trucks and heavy equipment were rented from United Rentals. Supplies were purchased at other area businesses, from Valley Lumber to Staples. Cars were rented.

The figure doesn't include the salaries of actors and film execs.

Hesseltine says she believes $5 million's in the right ballpark. Her office reports past Hollywood productions also dropped big money in Humboldt: $8.8 million spent here for The Majestic (2001) and $2.2 million for Outbreak (1995).

If this movie's a huge hit, Hesseltine says, the shooting site could become a tourist destination. That's what happened to the town of Forks, Wash., a holy site for fans of the Twilight kiddie vampire series. Closer to home, the Ewok village used for Return of the Jedi filming in Del Norte County attracted tourists until the set was vandalized and removed. A new cinematic tour of the area, however, could reprise Hollywood history for visitors. A marker could be placed in the woods -- "Jaden Smith's character stood here." Tourists could take photos at the site, experience the legacy.

That project's in the works, Hesseltine says.

After Earth stars legendary Jaden Smith (Karate Kid) and his dad Will (Fresh Prince in Black). It's directed by M. Night Shyamalan (1999's Sixth Sense was good).

The film is set 1,000 years in the future. Earth's been abandoned long ago by forward-thinking humans. The Smiths of the new millennium crash land on the pristine planet once called home. Think Disney's Wall-E meets History.com's Life After People.

The movie's stars and its post-apocalyptic production crew blasted into town after shoots in Pennsylvania and Costa Rica (and before the shoot in Moab).

Armed with Sony's new $65,000 F65 digital camera, spiffy gear that captures images in dizzyingly high resolution, movie makers recorded NorCal Nature in pixels four times denser than the industry standard.

Even if Sony's big-budget blockbuster fails to achieve escape velocity when it comes out in June, it'll look fabulous. And it will likely make money.

Shyamalan's 2010 movie The Last Airbender was created on a production budget of $150 million. Critics panned it. "Stilted dialogue, wooden acting, glacial pacing, cheesy special effects, tacky-looking sets, ugly costumes, poorly staged and edited action sequences, all shown in murky, cut-rate 3-D," wrote a NY Post critic. The movie lost money domestically -- bringing in only $131 million. Not to worry, though. The Last Airbender grossed another $188 million in foreign markets.

Back in Humboldt, whatever economic boost After Earth has provided wasn't limited to Sony's official spending, Hesseltine notes. Crew members ate and drank at local establishments. They bought groceries at the North Coast Co-op. Hesseltine relates a story of Jaden Smith running into Target to buy Nerf toys for downtime entertainment.

Local governments put up the money to run the Humboldt Film Commission, hoping to encourage visits like these, with whatever glam, tourism and dollars they may bring. Humboldt County contributes the lion's share, with smaller contributions from Del Norte County, the cities of Eureka and Arcata and the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce. From all those sources combined, Hesseltine's budget ends up around $75,000, which covers office rent, salaries and two trips a year to Los Angeles.

Hesseltine worked closely with makers of After Earth from the time they arrived here more than a year ago to look for the best location. She spent a week driving scouts around Del Norte and Humboldt as they auditioned redwood forests for a role in the movie.

The filmmakers chose Humboldt Redwoods State Park. In April, a small city bloomed off Dyerville Loop Road. Security guards ensured the safety of the stars. A well-stocked kitchen fed the crew. Heavy equipment was obtained. So were trailers, traffic cones, a travelin' school for the child actors and portable toilets.

By May 3, the After Earth team was packing bags and returning the forest to its natural, port-a-potty-free state. Shyamalan posted: "N. California is wrapped. Thanks to the people of Eureka for tolerating us and giving us such warmth."

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