In 1997, 'High Incident' came close to reality
Location manager John Grant found himself in some offscreen crossfire when he was working on DreamWorks’ first TV endeavor, “High Incident,” in 1997.
While scouting for the show, Grant was caught up in the North Hollywood Bank of America shootout — an event that prompted the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. (EIDC) to declare a moratorium on all gunfire for the film and TV industry in the San Fernando Valley.
Grant was en route to scout warehouses when he heard a radio report of a major police incident nearby. Too late, Grant found himself in stalled traffic and saw an armored car near him take off after being commandeered by a dozen armed police; the sound of gunfire cracked through the air in chorus with the thump…thump…thump of overhead helicopter wings.
“I knew I was in a place I shouldn’t be right now,” Grant recalled.
Minutes later, a police car housing a bleeding officer drove by on the sidewalk. Grant became location manager-turned-stuntman, and maneuvered his car onto the sidewalk, backing southward down Laurel Canyon and into the street using the handicapped ramp.
Thinking he was out of harm’s way, Grant saw a dozen police cars heading quickly toward him. He pulled over and witnessed them stop and arrest the real culprit at the intersection of Magnolia and Laurel.
“I called my office and told them that I was going to chill out in a donut shop,” Grant said. “They told me to take all the time I needed.”
Two months into the EIDC ban on gunfire, the “High Incident” writers approached the locations department with an idea. For the series’ finale, they wanted to re-create the shootout.
Grant’s team met with the local councilman’s chief of staff as well as a cautious EIDC, which set numerous guidelines and requirements that would be a challenge given a TV timeline.
The schedule called for 4½ days of full load, automatic gunfire at two locations — on a busy main thoroughfare and a residential backyard — all in Chatsworth, 10 miles from the original event.
The EIDC required notification for a one-mile radius around both locations as well as a map of every house and business notified, resulting in 12,000 letters. A 10-foot fence with a cover had to be built so the public couldn’t see into the bank location, and massive street shutdowns during takes required eight motor officers.
To ensure the shoot’s compliance, the EIDC mandated a monitor at the production’s expense but removed the monitor after the second day. An on-site visit by the EIDC permit coordinator confirmed shooting was going by the book and no complaints had been registered.
Daily contact with the local councilman’s office allowed for monitoring of any public concerns. Local radio stations were advised of delays around the bank location. Extra security was hired to manage spectators watching the filming, many of whom left after their first taste of gunfire or lost interest.
After four days at the bank location and a half day in the residential area, the crew retreated to their nearby stages to shoot interior scenes.
The production received only three complaints, all dealing with traffic delays on De Soto Avenue outside the bank. Moreover, the crew received merchants’ congratulatory calls regarding their professionalism in achieving the shoot.
“If you prep it right, it will run itself, which we did, and the shoot went off without a hitch. All parties involved were very happy with the outcome,” Grant concluded. “We jumped through more hoops than Flipper and were able to pull off an extremely difficult shoot with very few problems and concerns.”
Grant was a two-time nominee and 2005 California on Location Award winner for his work on MTV’s “The ’70s House.”