It’s not only the big trees and white water driving productions to film in Tulare County, California. Financial incentives, dedicated support and a film-friendly atmosphere are also big attractions.
Located in California’s Central Valley, Tulare County offers myriad filming opportunities just three hours from the studio lots of Burbank. Indeed, the possibility of filming among iconic rows of giant sequoias and in lush vineyards, fruit orchards and oak woodlands have lured an impressive array of productions to the region including Hulk, Forrest Gump and Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny. “By far, our biggest location draw is the giant sequoias,” says Tulare County Film Commissioner Eric Coyne. “Productions can choose between filming in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, within the Giant Sequoia National Monument, on US Forest Service lands or in Balch Park.”
Located in south-east Tulare County, the county-owned Balch Park features hundreds of giant sequoias – some of the biggest in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Although filming in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks or within Sequoia National Forest requires a special permit — something Coyne can help to arrange with his federal colleagues — filming in Balch, or anywhere within Tulare County, is a simple process. Officials do not even charge for the required county film permit. Coyne and his team also endeavour to make the process as simple and swift as possible, no matter the size of the production. “We try to be as responsive as possible — that means taking a lot of weekend and evening calls and checking emails constantly,” he says. “Our permit application is a one-page form, a simple description of your film activity and verification of your production insurance. We like to have a week to review applications but often our approvals take just a business day or less if your insurance is in order.”
When production company Neon Black approached Coyne about shooting the season-two finale of HBO’s True Detective in Balch Park, for example, location manager Caleb Duffy explained that it would be a four-day shoot with a crew of more than 350, an A-list star, and more than a dozen machine guns and drones that would fly between the giant sequoias. Despite the rigid site controls in place on Cinco de Mayo — and the fact the production wished to stage a blazing gun battle within a grove of 2,500-year-old trees — Duffy received his verbal permit approval in 24 hours. In addition, the Tulare County Film Commission is on hand to help with the ongoing needs of any production shooting in the area, from sourcing permits and finding cast and crew accommodations, to liaising with local law enforcement.
Any qualifying production shooting in Tulare County can also take advantage of the state’s competitive Film & Television Tax Credit Programme 2.0, which is administered by the California Film Commission and is now set to run through until 2025. Each fiscal year $330m of funding is available across four categories: TV projects, relocating TV, indie features and non-indie features (for further information and requirements, visit fi lm.ca.gov/tax-credit/the-basics-2-0/).
Home to more than 3,400 miles of public road, much of which snakes through the region’s national parks, forests and other public lands, Tulare County is very popular with producers who want to film scenic road shots for features or commercials. “We still have a military-style airport from the Second World War. They shot flight scenes for one of the Bond movies there at Sequoia Field,” says Coyne. “We have had people film Super Bowl commercials here because there was too much snow in Montana at the time and they could just drive a couple of trucks up the highway from one of the studios. We also get a lot of creatives from the Bay Area, because we are just four hours from San Francisco. But mostly, I think it helps that our towns are film-friendly.”
While the region receives plenty of feature film and television enquiries, Coyne says business is centered around commercials, music videos and, increasingly, video-game projects. Blur Studios shot the promotional trailer for Titanfall 2 among the sequoias. Recently, producers shot footage for another video-game project in and around the raging waters of the Kaweah River.
Coyne says challenges posed by the weather or other logistical issues can usually be overcome. Singer Chris Brown, for example, wanted to shoot a music video in Sequoia National Forest in early 2017 and although snow was still blocking most of the mountain roads, a snowblower cleared a suitable site on private land. Samsung wanted to film a commercial that showcased a new cellphone’s camera by having a hiker climb to the top of the world’s fifth-largest sequoia tree — something that is not allowed in Sequoia National Park nor easily permitted in a national forest. By steering this production towards a private landowner, a permit was approved and the logistics arranged in 48 hours.
“This is a dream job for our film office staff,” Coyne enthuses. “We are making friends from Korea, Japan and all over Europe, as well as our domestic film production work. But we are always up for an unusual challenge! I would still love to bring a Godzilla pic to America. Or have Liev Schreiber’s Ray Donovan bury some unfortunate soul under a sequoia tree.”