California’s Humboldt-Del-Norte County is open for business. Film commissioner Cassandra Hesseltine sent out an email to over 400 location managers heralding the news in an effort to promote economic regrowth and aid the film industry restart in the state.
The redwood-forested, northernmost area in the state has served as a filming location for films including “Bird Box,” “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” “A Wrinkle in Time” and “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic, an unnamed major blockbuster was set to increase the area’s filming profile even more, but because of new COVID-19 protocols, the film is unable to return to filming in the area.
Hesseltine spoke recently about how the coronavirus impacted the area and how she is hoping to kickstart the area’s economy with new safety protocols in place.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, how many productions did you have in the area?
Cassandra Hesseltine: We get about 25 productions on average a year, and they can be anything from an indie film to a car commercial to reality TV.
In March, we were slated to shoot the biggest movie we were ever going to have. It had a huge budget and was based on a huge book, and it had a huge name.
The sad thing is, even with the COVID-19 measures, we can no longer have it shoot here. We also had a smaller indie feature film, that one can come back to us, and we are in pre-production.
As a film commissioner, what are you doing to prepare while we wait for productions to resume?
Hesseltine: We are looking at what hotels of ours are going to be film-friendly. We are looking at using cleaning companies that are certified for COVID-19 best practices.
We have created our compliance program here and have a registered nurse who can work on productions if they can’t afford one.
How do you start rebuilding and say, “Come shoot in Humboldt?
Hesseltine: I was lucky that my economic development team here in the county as well as the City Council and the Board of Supervisors all knew that one way we could rebuild our economy was through film, and they’ve been very supportive in the past 10 years that I’ve been the film commissioner.
We have an amazing public health officer who understood that and helped us understand how do we do it safely.
There’s the fear of how do you have a production come up from L.A., and what does that mean? She has been helping to educate us and helped create workable guidelines.
It’s about going to my mentors and going to the registered nurse, going to public health and we’re doing it to the best of our ability. It’s about building close relationships with the productions that come here. Communication is so important when it comes to expectations, relationship building and being responsible.
In terms of your local crews, what kind of crew do you have available for TV and film productions?
Hesseltine: We’ve had a handful of indie feature films and studios pick up one PA. Other times, they’ll pick up people for wardrobe and makeup.
We have a production guide online where people can sign up if they’re new or students and want to gain experience. We are about to find out how much crew is willing to still be crew and work with these productions.
We are casting for another indie film that is casting for background. The casting director is getting a lot of questions about safety on set and how they’re going to be protected on set.
What about the fear factor of being around people after this pandemic, how do you think that will impact sets and location shoots? Should the industry be looking at that?
Hesseltine: Yes. I’ve treated suicide intervention and have a psychology degree. Absolutely. I do think that that would be something to look at because that’s part of your entire health. You don’t realize you’re scared, and then you get that rapid heartbeat. I think that a mental health professional would be an incredible part to add to the team.
Sign up here for Variety’s weekly Production Restart newsletter tracking the return to shooting around the globe.