Humboldt County’s natural beauty has a starring role in Disney’s production of “A Wrinkle in Time,” which was in town in late November and early December to film several scenes here.
“This is going to be a postcard of Humboldt County into posterity,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, while visiting the set at Patrick’s Point State Park on Dec. 1.
The film, set for an April 2018 release, starring Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine, is among a handful of films that received tax credits through the state’s expanded Film and Television Tax Credit Program.
“This is what the tax credit is all about,” said McGuire, who supported the bill. “What we have started to see now is active filming throughout the state. Because of the beauty, we hope this is just the start of filming in our own backyard.”
In 2016, the state doled out about $109 million in tax incentives for California based productions. “A Wrinkle in Time” was given $18.1 million in tax credits, the largest portion any movie received this year.
The film is based on the 1962 book of the same name by Madeline L’Engle. It’s a fantasy, coming of age story that follows three children — Meg Murry, her younger brother Charles Wallace Murry and their pal Calvin O’Keefe — through an interplanetary adventure. “A Wrinkle in Time” is the first in a series of five books by the author that follows their further adventures through time and space.
While none of the A-list adult stars of the film were in town for the production, the Times-Standard did spot child stars Storm Reid (Meg Murry) and Levi Miller (Calvin O’Keefe) on the set during production.
Why Humboldt County?
Scouting in this county began several months ago, according to the supervising location manager Alison Taylor.
The Patrick’s Point location, she said, was exactly what fulfilled the vision for director Ava DuVernay.
“We had some moments where I’m like, ‘Nailed that location!’” Taylor said. The redwood forests of Humboldt County were certainly among those “nailed it” moments.
“What we were looking for in Humboldt was this forest,” she said.
Nearly two weeks out of the film’s expected 77-day production schedule took place in various locations in Humboldt County, including Patrick’s Point State Park and Sequoia Park. While the film is predominantly shot in California, as part of the rules required for receiving the tax credit, there are also locations in Canada and New Zealand. The portion filmed locally is a creation of the planet Camazotz, one of several planets visited by the film’s leading young characters.
Taylor said the idea was to create an otherworldly feel.
“This is a scene where the forest comes to life. It needed to be another planet,” she said. “They were searching for different sorts of trees. We’re working with kids so it can’t be too ominous.”
DuVernay loved the county from the beginning.
“From the moment I visited the Humboldt area, I knew it would be a perfect backdrop for our sci-fi adventure,” DuVernay said. “The breathtaking beauty and majesty of the trees and terrain made for a one of a kind filming experience. We’re thankful to have been able to bring ‘Wrinkle’ to this magical part of California.”
Bringing the production to Humboldt County was a significant boost to the local economy, especially for the off-season, said Humboldt-Del Norte Film Commissioner Cassandra Hesseltine.
“This is a slower season,” she said. “It’s hotels getting money that they wouldn’t normally. There’s locals working on this, police and CHP.”
Humboldt County contributions included everything from providing security or mobile restroom facilities, to housing visiting crew members in hotels and providing local catering options on the set.
“Though it will be a while before we will have all the numbers of the economic impact of having this movie in Humboldt County, I know of at least a couple dozen local individuals that were hired to work on this movie, five hotels that were used throughout scouting and filming, and over a dozen local shops that supplied rentals,” Hesseltine said. “Not to mention all the restaurants that 150 cast and crew ate at each night. I am sure there is a lot more businesses impacted that I don’t even know about yet.”
“The things we could get locally, we did get locally,” said location manager Taylor.
The production’s infusion in the local economy could be just the beginning, Hesseltine said.
“Film tourism can be higher than the actual shoots,” she said. “‘Return of the Jedi’ is still bringing people to the area.”
Filming for the Star Wars Episode VI took place in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in the early 1980s, which turned the giant redwoods into the infamous Ewok Forest of Endor.
She believes there’s a strong possibility that could happen with “A Wrinkle in Time.”
Several members of the crew also suggested they would return to the area after the production because they were enamored of it.
“We were looking over the ocean and I called my wife and said ‘We gotta come up here,’” one of the film’s producers, James Whitaker, said. Whitaker, a Los Angeles resident, has previously worked on many big-budget films including “American Gangster,” “Friday Night Lights” and “8 Mile.”
“It’s amazing to be in an environment like this with the redwood trees,” Whitaker said.
He added that the tax credit allows for showcasing the area’s natural beauty.
“The California tax credit has been huge for us,” he said. “For us, it’s great to be able to show the state in all its glory.”
He said that filming the majority of the film in California makes the cast and crew happy as well.
“We all appreciate the ability to go home to our families at night,” Whitaker said.
Bringing a book to life
This is not Disney’s first time trying to bring this award-winning book to the screen — the first effort was more than a decade ago and aimed at the small screen.
Catherine Hand was and is a producer for both productions. She was also a long-time friend of the author.
She spoke to the Times-Standard about her work on the current film, which is set for release in theaters in April 2018.
“I was really close with Madeline,” she said. “I got the rights to make the film (directly from L’Engle).”
She said the 2003 version, which was generally panned by critics, did not live up to her own expectations.
“With the TV version, there were so many constraints,” Hand said. “When I finished I said, ‘This isn’t my dream.’”
She said the production being made now is closer to her dream as well as what she believes L’Engle, herself, would have wanted. L’Engle died in 2007.
“It’s night and day,” Hand said. “I think this is going to be an epic adventure, with lots of heart and lots of humor.”
But she was mum on whether Disney plans to pursue further sequels, but one can surmise that is a possibility Disney may consider if the film is successful.
She said that over the course of her life, she has heard over and over again from people how much they love the “Wrinkle in Time” story.
“It’s a constant refrain,” she said. “I don’t think of it as pressure, I think of it as responsibility.”
She said she hopes people find the messages of the film as clear as those people find from the books.
“I think the message of love is important,” she said; “Love can overcome evil.”
She also hopes people can learn from what she said was one of L’Engle’s favorite sentences in the book.
“The most important line to (L’Engle) in the book is ‘Like and equal are not the same at all.’”
Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.