‘The Affair’ Affair

Town officials need to explain why such a large-scale undertaking was allowed in the first place

    The Affair” rolled into town last week, thanks to a production company making a pilot for a dramatic Showtime television series, and a good number of residents are angry about it.

    Town officials need to explain why such a large-scale undertaking was allowed in the first place and also how the Sept. 20 request for a permit slipped through without anyone taking notice. Procedures for reviewing film and television production, as well as a host of other sorts of gatherings, need to be overhauled.

    The trouble began last week when an on-location film cast and crew numbering into the high dozens, with numerous trucks, vans, trailers, and personal vehicles first appeared in Amagansett, riling up the Beach Hampton lanes with surprise road closings, noise, and all-night lighting that poured into bedroom windows. As if admitting the intrusion, the film crew offered several residents as much as $1,000 cash for their inconvenience. 

    The production company has also been at Deep Hollow Ranch and Camp Hero in Montauk, on Napeague Meadow Road, at the Lobster Roll restaurant and Cedar Lawn Cemetery, and was to have set up at Turtle Cove and Ditch Plain. Filming is to wrap up tomorrow, according to a two-week shooting schedule provided to the town.

    All of this has dubious local economic benefit. The American Legion, of which Town Clerk Fred Overton is commander, saw its building used as a catering hall on a few days, but most of the vehicles, crew, and services came from elsewhere. The company’s payment to the Town of East Hampton in fees and for traffic control was said to be $30,000 — a pittance, really, for two long weeks of trouble.

    To a certain extent, it is unfair to single out Mr. Overton, as some residents have done, for issuing the production permit. The town code does not ask more than a cursory review by his office and the town clerk’s role was more paper-shuffler than decider in this case. Nonetheless, Mr. Overton could have done more than just walked the application over to the supervisor’s office had he realized the potential scope of the disruptions being proposed.

    What’s more, the common-sense question remains of why an application that contained at least one obvious violation of the law — an after-midnight beach bonfire at Ditch Plain — did not raise a red flag.

    Similarly, John Jilnicki, the town attorney, is not required to look too deeply into film permit requests. His office apparently checks that a production company has adequate insurance, nothing more, from what we can tell. Still, you have to wonder whether he too might have noticed something seemed excessive and brought the matter to the town board’s attention.

    The Town Police Department, some of whose officers were in line to receive overtime for film duty, did its part in checking that plans did not impact public safety. However, they too fell short in allowing at least one Beach Hampton road to become potentially impassible to emergency vehicles, according to a resident who sent us a photograph to make that point. And, though the permit required the production company to comply with all applicable local laws, no one appeared to be checking. Anyway, with the town cops on hand and more or less working for the producers, not residents, it is unlikely that staff from the Ordinance Enforcement Department would have issued any citations.

    Adding insult to injury, the film crew entirely blocked the Napeague Lane beach parking lot for a day and supposedly used the beach without obtaining permission from the East Hampton Town Trustees. Lest anyone forget, the beaches outside of Montauk fall into their jurisdiction.

    As with past permits handed out without adequate review, “The Affair” underscores the point that new mechanisms must be put in place to protect residents’ peace, quiet, and enjoyment of their community. The City of New York has a Mayor’s Office of Film and Television handling such things; East Hampton similarly, if at a smaller scale, must improve its scrutiny, especially when the use of public property, such as beaches, roads, and parking lots, is involved.

    There are far too many outside businesses, from television and film producers to party promoters and surf schools, eager to make a buck on East Hampton’s civic spaces. It is up to the town board to make sure that there are actual material benefits involved and that the proposed activities do not unacceptably impact our quality of life.