New Mexico has become a hotbed for the television and movie industry within the last few years. Although the number of shows and movies being produced here ebb and flow, there are usually many productions taking place in this beautiful and picturesque state.
The Albuquerque District often “plays a role” during the production of these projects, as representatives from production companies contact us for guidance and film permits.
Depending on the film’s needs, different sections of the District can become involved, but you can bet regulatory, real estate and public affairs are in the mix. Normally, all three sections are notified when a film will take place on Corps’ land or in jurisdictional areas.
Recently, the District was contacted by Rebecca Puck Stair, location manager for an upcoming feature film called “The Host,” based on the book by Stephanie Meyer who is the author of the “Twilight” books. Stair wanted to make sure, while planning to shoot at a particular location with a waterway in New Mexico, that all of the Corps’ rules and regulations are followed.
The query started with Francina Martinez, real estate specialist in charge of film permits, who determined the film location was not on land managed by the Corps. However, because it was taking place along the Rio Puerco River, Martinez knew regulatory needed to be involved.
Eddie Paulsgrove, project manager in the Regulatory Division, asked to meet with Jennifer Joyce, the film’s assistant location manager, at the film site, to understand what was planned.
“Regulatory Division has jurisdiction over all the waters of the United States below the ordinary high water mark, per the Clean Water Act,” Paulsgrove said. “This ordinary high water mark varies and must be determined on site.”
According to Paulsgrove, most of the employees in regulatory are multidisciplinary, physical scientists and dabble in everything from archeology to biology. When they do a site visit, they determine whether permits are required for the proposed activity and determine current stream or wetland conditions by looking at the landscape and ecosystem. This includes soils, vegetation, habitat, channel dynamics and water flow patterns. Once site conditions are identified, regulatory works with the production staff to understand their needs.
“Regulatory determines how the project will impact a location in the micro and macro environment,” Paulsgrove said. “We are here to educate and assist the members of the film crew in understanding the bigger picture.”
When Joyce explained the scene involved some trucks being driven on the side of the river, Paulsgrove wanted to determine if there were any recent plantings or other bank stabilization efforts, such as wire-wrapped rip rap, where they wanted to film that could be impacted by the movie.
“The Corps wants to ensure the integrity of the channel is maintained,” Paulsgrove said.
By seeing the site, Paulsgrove noted that salt cedar, or tamarisk, was everywhere. Tamarisk is a noxious, invasive species that grows profusely around water bodies. However, even though invasive, the mature, established trees have become habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher, an endangered species in New Mexico. Therefore, he advised Joyce that they could take out the younger saplings but not disturb the mature, established trees.
Paulsgrove also explained that vehicles entering the water must be steam cleaned ahead of time, and before leaving the scene, so they won’t introduce any invasive species or spread any they encounter. Paulsgrove then pointed out areas of rip rap and asked that it not be disturbed, and he asked that the dirt around the bank get raked back to the original landscape as much as possible.
“We try to leave each location better than we found it” Stair said. “We want to be able to come back and work on further projects and are interested in establishing a good relationship.”
Ultimately, she said the relationship comes down to mutual respect. The film companies respect the law and reach out to various government and state agencies to not only get film permits, but to understand requirements and expectations. In return, the Corps and other agencies mutually respect the wishes of the film agency by not taking inappropriate photos, which include anything to be seen in the film (or actors) and by staying out of the crew’s way.
When and Why are Film Permits Necessary?
If filming is to occur on federal, or public, land, it requires a permit. Government agencies are stewards of the public’s land, and no one can have exclusive rights to the land, like is often required when filming a movie, unless they pay the government for the use. However, if the project is non-profit, it can be exempt. A small amount of film permit money taken in from profit-generating films goes to the agency, but the money mostly goes to the general fund.
The more involved the type of use, the longer it will take to get a permit. For example, if the film requires crashing a helicopter into federal land, meetings must be held to determine the environmental impacts and it takes time. Anyone interested in a film permit or with questions about filming on land managed by the Corps should call 505-342-4829.