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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Water Truck on Stunt production

'Stunt Junkies' stages bridge feat
Discovery Channel production films parachute drop, BASE jump at Foresthill span

"Stunt Junkies" stunt athlete Jonathan Tagle approaches the Foresthill Bridge on Friday after swooping from 4,000 feet. The other canopy chute belongs to camera operator J.C. Colclasure. Photo by gus thomson/ Auburn Journal

The always-photogenic Foresthill Bridge became a drop zone for Discovery Channel's "Stunt Junkies" on Friday.

Stunt athlete Jonathan Tagle, a world champion two years ago in canopy parachute piloting, was the "Stunt Junkies" star - attempting a death-defying drop that started 4,000 feet in the air from a helicopter.

Tagle's job was to "swoop" his chute for a landing on the bridge, discard the rigging, jump off the bridge for a free fall and then open a second BASE-jumping chute for a landing on the American River canyon floor about 730 feet below.

Tagle admitted to a "respectful nervousness" leading up to the jump. The bridge is the third highest in the United States. Tagle, 38, has racked up 5,000 parachute jumps and 50 BASE jumps. But he had never done a combination of the two. It will also be his first time on "Stunt Junkies," when the episode airs in May.

"This bridge has a lot of respect in the BASE community," Tagle said. "I'm a little bit nervous but that's what keeps you in check. You use it in a positive way."

"Stunt Junkies" host Eli Thompson, who has 14,000 jumps, said the bridge adds an extra dimension to stunts like Tagle's. The BASE acronym stands for buildings, antennae, structures and earthbound locations parachutists jump from.

"The bridge is fantastic," Thompson said. "It's a favorite of BASE jumpers and I wish it was a legal place to jump, like the one in Twin Falls (Idaho). BASE jumpers are courteous and what better use for the bridge than that."

Last week's three-day shoot at the Foresthill Bridge, about a half-mile east of Auburn, was the third visit by "Stunt Junkies" in the last six months to the pea-green span.

Filming in October provided preparatory footage for bungee jump at Colorado's Royal Gorge. Last month, stunt athlete Marta Empinotti attempted a BASE jump from the top of a moving truck over the bridge railing. That show is slated to air April 16.

Over the past decade, Foresthill Bridge filming has included a spectacular Corvette drop for the Vin Diesel action movie "XXX" and several other stunts for reality-based TV shows.

The "Stunt Junkies" production team approached Placer County and the state Parks Department two weeks ago for a film permit and OK to jump off the county-owned bridge into the canyon, which is part of the Auburn State Recreation Area.

Beverly Lewis, director of the Placer County-Tahoe Film Office, said that working with executive producer Perry Barndt provided an extra level of security when it came to safety.

"He's one of the top stunt coordinators in Hollywood," Lewis said. "He's the perfect person to pull this together because he doesn't take any chances. There are very few things we say 'yes' to filming."

The shoot provided work for Auburn-area people. Lewis said a water truck to wet down the temporary helicopter pad was from Foresthill. The helicopter and pilot were also from Foresthill. And the "Stunt Junkies" crew spent an evening unwinding Thursday at Bowman's Foothill Bowling Center.

Chopper pilot Erik Vandagriff, of Richvale'sa A&P Helicopters, flew from the temporary helipad with a copter that featured four different cameras to catch all the action.

A Foresthill resident who has previously worked on motion pictures like "Independence Day," Vandagriff said that with Placer County not charging for film permits, locations like the Foresthill Bridge are attractive to production companies.

"We need to promote this for the county - when filming at the Golden Gate Bridge costs $15,000," he said. "This is our backyard and we have so many locations."

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