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Mythbusters' TV show films in Hamilton Landing

NOVATO – Is it true that a scuba diver can foil a shark attack by blowing up an oxygen tank in its mouth? Can enough helium balloons carry a small child aloft? And how exactly would one go about finding a needle in a haystack?

These and other matters of scientific curiosity are being studied at Hamilton Landing in Novato, where the popular Discovery Channel show "Mythbusters" is filming some of its wilder experiments.

"We love all the space in those hangars," said Mythbusters Associate Producer John Hunt.

"We can get away with lots of stuff. We can bolt things to the ground, hang chains from the rafters, set off explosions," he said.

A product of Australia-based Beyond Productions, "Mythbusters" features lots of explosions, an important component of scientific advancement. Popular hosts Jamie Hyneman, who owns his own special effects company, and Adam Savage, self-styled "stuff maker," frequently come close to blowing themselves up on the set.

"They had to have the FBI bomb squad participate in an exploding scuba tank experiment," said Barker Pacific Group Chief Financial Officer Richard Johnson. Barker Pacific owns and operates Hamilton Landing, the former Novato air force base that is now a mix of residential and commercial development.

While the 60,000-square-foot airplane hangars are being remodeled and leased out to an interesting mix of biotechology and high-tech companies as well as special effects producers and video game makers – among other tenants, Barker Pacific registered the site as a resource for film crews.

So far, "Mythbusters" has been the only customer. But its crews are good short-term tenants, paying up to $1,000 a day and taking care of all insurance, permits and the occasional bomb squad, said Mr. Johnson.

Shoots usually take two days. But often viewers, who supply about a third of the myths and urban legends addressed on the show, object that a myth has been insufficiently busted. In those cases, the crew returns to give it another shot.

That was the case with the "Plywood Builder" episode. The team attempted to replicate the widely believed tale of a construction worker blown from a high-rise building who saved himself by grasping a 4x8-foot sheet of plywood and parachuting to a lower level.

"We used the five-story Hamilton air control tower as the high rise," said Mr. Hunt. "Jamie wanted to do it live, but after a few crash dummies were destroyed, we declared the myth busted."

Viewers weren't convinced.

"There were claims that we failed to simulate the strong updrafts generated by high-rise buildings, so we put Jamie in the back of a fast-moving pickup. He couldn't even hang onto the plywood."

Another myth laid to rest at Hamilton Landing: the cherished playground belief that with energetic leg-pumping and a few good pushes, you can achieve a 360-degree arc on a swing set.

"You can, but only with the addition of a couple of small rockets," said Mr. Hunt.

Hamilton tenants, don't try this at work. Check out the Discovery Channel schedule and watch the show instead.


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