When the production team for “Bird Box,” a Netflix original feature project filmed primarily along the Smith River in Del Norte County in January 2018 initially reached out to Cassandra Hesseltine at the Humboldt-Del Norte Film Commission, one of the first questions they asked was whether or not the area featured a river with an epic fork in it. For Hesseltine, the answer was an easy one.
“I said, ‘Do I have a river with an epic fork?’ And then I sent them a photo of the Smith River,” Hesseltine said on Thursday. “It was a while before I heard back from them and then they came and scouted the area and by July-August of 2017, our office started working closely with their location department. We scouted out the forest, the river, the houses — used for both housing for staff and in the movie — and once they knew what they wanted we started to help them along with production.”
Portions of “Bird Box,” a psychological thriller based on the book published in 2014 by author Josh Malerman, were filmed along the Smith River in Del Norte County and, at one point, there were some 350 people associated with the production working in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
The pre-production team arrived in the summer and filming began in January and, according to Hesseltine, the entire production brought in just over a million dollars in raw numbers, with $900,000 spent in Del Norte County and the other $100,000 in Humboldt County.
When you add in multipliers, those numbers only grow.
“By the time that money circulates, you’re looking at close to $3 million spent and for Del Norte County in the winter on hotels, restaurants, gas, those sorts of things, that’s not too bad,” Hesseltine said before explaining her method of calculation: multiply every dollar spent by $2.95 to estimate the direct economic impact from the production.
Del Norte County Chief Administration Officer Jay Sarin said the exact numbers on the economic impact of filming aren’t available, but overall, the production was a great success from the county’s standpoint.
“Everyone from our community services officer to the sheriff’s office to my office had numerous contacts with the production team and we had staff dedicated to assisting them with their needs,” he said. “We were compensated for that. It wasn’t much, but we wanted the opportunity for the film. It’s been a long time since we had ‘Star Wars’ or ‘ET’ up here and this was significant economically and it was an overall positive from our standpoint.”
Sarina said local businesses took advantage of having some 350 people who needed to be fed and housed over the course of filming and the feedback from the business community has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We had some restaurants change their hours so they would stay open later to provide meals,” Sarina said. “It was a significant event for us particularly at that time of the year and it provided an opportunity for us to create a partnership to help get them through the bureaucratic maze that comes with filming in sensitive areas like the Smith River.”
The process of getting the necessary local, state and federal permits for a film like “Bird Box” are areas where the experience and expertise of locals like Hesseltine and Sarina is invaluable and that includes representatives from state and national parks.
“Bird Box” was also filmed in the Redwood National and State Parks and, according to Chief Ranger Greg Morse, production companies are familiar with the necessary paperwork and applications that need to be approved before filming can take place.
Issues such as the time of day the filming will take place, whether or not there will be simulated gunfire or loud noises or bright lights that will impact neighbors or the environment are all considered and that included a request to have a small set in the Smith River.
“They wanted to have the shell of a tractor-trailer cab in the middle of the Smith River and a lot of environmental people who work for the park were cautious about that,” Morse said, adding that it was only the shell and it was approved. “We have monitors, most are law enforcement officers, and they make sure there is no damage to resources or interference with the public. ‘Bird Box’ filmed at multiple locations and we had two officers on the river and two officers at Stout Grove to make sure things were going well. It was a lot of work, but it was definitely worth it.”
Another benefit from having a production like “Bird Box” filmed locally is the film tourism that follows and both Hesseltine and local officials in Del Norte County are crossing their fingers that the success and popularity of the film will mean more film tourism.
“There isn’t a calculator we can use to determine just how many people will visit because of one movie, but we expect by the spring and summer we will see people who want to visit the various sites,” Hesseltine said, before adding that the Google map of movie shoot locations has gotten more than 90,000 hits since it was introduced in 2017. “I think we would be very surprised if we didn’t see people asking about where the filming took place in the spring and summer.”
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.