Lesson Three – Case Study

Challenge of moving something through government structures

Example 1:  the storyline of a film includes burning a log cabin to the ground. While this is often accomplished with physical effects (flame bars, controlled burn) or visual effects (laid in during post production) for practical and creative reasons, this involves an actual cabin engulfed in flames.

It is “fire season” and the fire departments at local and state levels are busy dealing with actual fires.

There are a number of issues with this situation and a number of different levels and types of government permissions required.

On the County level: In order for the County to grant permission, their Fire Inspector must approve the production’s methodologies, set procedures and restrictions (burn cannot take place if the wind is over a specific speed), and determine the number of firefighters to be hired and the types and amounts of firefighting equipment to be rented.

Together, the Film Commissioner and the Location Manager come up with a plan. The production agrees to create a massive crater in which to build the cabin, clearing vegetation completely from the crater and in a two hundred yard circumference around the perimeter. This satisfies the fire department to the degree that they can at least continue discussing the possibility of allowing this to take place.

As the land is cleared and the cabin is built, the fires in the area continue to grow. This raises new concerns for the Fire Department: how can they allow this film to intentionally set a fire when it could cause a true emergency? Again, with planning, it is determined that the production will hire two private water-dropping helicopters to be on stand –by.

Next, the issue of having a sufficient number of firefighters for the shoot arises, since so many have been deployed to actual fires. The Film Commission looks into other firefighting groups and finds “hot shots” that are not being utilized and are available for hire.

On the State level: The County Fire Inspector and the State Fire Marshall are now brought together to discuss this situation. They agree upon the use of alternate personnel, how to approach the public relations aspects of the situation, and other considers.

This portion of the film is a few months out when a new issue is raised: with the amount of smoke that burning the cabin will entail, would this violate state air quality levels? With research by a seasoned Production Safety person, it is determined that yes, this is going to require a state hearing to ask for a variance from the state law, and it will take about 60 days. It is anyone’s guess at this point if the variance will be granted or not.

In the end, the variance was granted, the State and the County approved the shoot and the cabin was burned to the ground. The surrounding land was safe and there were injuries.

This exemplifies the complexities that a single scene in a film can entail with various levels and types of government, with different departments within these governments and the cooperation necessary between governments.