An HBO miniseries in production in New York State suffered a major setback early yesterday morning when an auto dealership being used as a set burned to the ground. The real tragedy, though, is the fact that the blaze took with it at least two dozen 90’s-vintage Chevrolet Corvettes and Camaros, all owned by enthusiasts from the region.
Fortunately there were no injuries, but it took crews from 15 different Hudson Valley fire departments hours to bring the blaze in Ellenville under control, according to The Poughkeepsie Journal. The fire is still under investigation, and it’s not yet know what started it or why is spread so thoroughly across the lot. The series, I Know This Much Is True, starring Mark Ruffalo, Melissa Leo, Rosie O’Donnell, and Juliette Lewis, has temporarily halted production in the wake of the fire.
There were a total of at least 50 vehicles on the painstakingly replicated auto dealer set, in addition to the classic sportscars. They were gathered for the production by automotive journalist Jamie Kitman, Automobile Magazine’s New York bureau chief. Kitman’s business, Octane Film Cars, organizes vehicles from enthusiast owners and private collections for film, television, and other media productions, in addition to drawing from his own collection of dozens of vintage cars.
In a story he posted at Automobile, Kitman described the heartbreak of having to tell the owners what happened: “So today was spent by me calling and writing owners to alert them that their cars may have been destroyed or severely damaged in a fire on set, details to follow,” he wrote. “ The videos were horrifying. Cars I’d supplied burned to the ground in a three-alarm blaze, along with the dealership. That it happened sucked for me, of course, but most obviously and even more for the owners and the people who had re-created this amazing dealership. For them, it was far worse.”
I profiled Kitman’s personal collection a few years ago for Gear Patrol. He described at the time the painstaking work he and the production teams go through to ensure historical accuracy in the productions. “For instance, there were no ’79 LTD’s in ’69, and you can’t have a big-bumper police car in 1965,” he told me at the time, noting that his collection, and the needs of most productions, reflects reality, not aspirational visions with lots of Ferraris and Porsches. “Another shortcoming I notice a lot is they’ll do a street scene in 1974 but have no foreign cars, which is insane. There were lots of Datsuns and Toyotas and VWs and Renaults and other crazy stuff all over the place. So we can help decide what would have been right for both the demographic of the street or the neighborhood, or even the character driving the car.”
His own cars have been featured in Pan Am, The Americans, Zero Hour, and Person of Interest—and even Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. None from his collection were at the car dealer that caught fire, but he’s seeing first-hand the impact it causes to those who’s cars were there. “Their reaction is first and foremost shock with understandably quite a bit of horror,” Kitman said via email. “It’s a real window into the different way people process loss, but I feel badly for all of them. Some cars are more rare than others, and these owners, while commendably philosophical, have the most to be sorry about.”
Obviously this is a risk owners of any classic cars take, whether it’s loaning the machines out for productions, putting them on the track at Goodwood, or even showing up for cars and coffee events on Saturday mornings. Being out in the world exposes them to risk. But a loss of this magnitude is rare, and indeed particularly heartbreaking.