How do those car commercials get filmed in Malibu?

Point Mugu rock (above, left) is a popular spot north of Malibu for filming car commercials.

A countless number of car commercials have been filmed on Pacific Coast Highway over the years, especially the stretches near Point Mugu rock with infinity views of the Pacific, just a few miles north of the Malibu city limits. Just about every Malibu resident has, at one time or another, been waived to a stop by a sheriff’s deputy or California Highway Patrol officer directing traffic for a film shoot, waiting a minute or two until a scene was finished. 

But many may not know what all is involved in beaming these TV images of the local landscape to the rest of the country, and often the rest of the world. 

For starters, commercial and filmmakers have to get permits before any shooting can be done on a public roadway. On a state-owned road or freeway like PCH, a production company must fill out an on-line permit application on the state’s California Film Commission (CFC) website, which is then reviewed by Caltrans. 

Caltrans charges a $70-per-hour review fee with a minimum of two hours for a “simple permit,” which requires four business days’ notice before filming. 

All permits require $500,000 in auto liability insurance issued in the state of California as well as a million dollars in general liability insurance and other documentation. 

The second part of the equation is a “complex” permit requesting an actual road closure. These must be filed at least 16 business days prior to filming, and require a meeting among Caltrans, law enforcement (sheriff’s department or the California Highway Patrol) and the production company to determine how many officers need to be assigned. 

Officer Miguel Luevano, media relations officer and CHP liaison, provides specialized training classes to officers assigned to film details. 

“They have to be familiar with what the film permit allows, whether it’s issued by the local county or the state,” he said. “Then, in the event of a brush fire, rain or some other unique situation, they have the final say on whether filming is allowed to continue.” 

The presence of the CHP is mainly to maintain public safety during filming, and the production company must reserve those officers in advance. 

Sheriffs or CHP officers are not present on film shoots at taxpayer expense–production companies pay steep hourly rates for every individual assigned, plus mileage rates for every vehicle. For example, one motorcycle sergeant is charged at the rate of $93.39 per hour for labor plus $1.33 per mile for use of the motorcycle. 

“Temporary stoppage of traffic is arranged by the Sheriff ’s Department in [the city limits of] Malibu,” Ferdinand Ordona, a senior transportation engineer with Caltrans’ film coordination group, said in a telephone interview. “Typically, we don’t allow road closures on PCH, although in Ventura County the traffic is quite a bit lighter and there’s more of a tendency to allow filming by the ocean there.” 

Traffic Sergeant Phil Brooks of the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station concurs. He has never seen Caltrans allow a complete stop of traffic on PCH within the Malibu city limits for filming purposes, but has seen the brief closure of one lane on occasion. Brooks said that some filming has been done on side streets, but even there, he said traffic is seldom held up for more than one minute. 

What’s more common, Brooks said, is “a rolling shoot moving with traffic” that is escorted by Sheriff ’s patrol cars, with “one in front and one in back.” 

Any use of flammable materials, explosive devices or open flames must also be included on the permit application. The state fire marshal reviews these requests and may assign local fire department staff to be on location to monitor pyrotechnic activity. 

Assistant City Manager Reva Feldman told The Malibu Times that the city issued a total of 79 permits for commercials in 2012.