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Idea of local film commissions absurd
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Stanislaus County is not exactly a mecca for film companies so I privately chuckle when I hear of Valley towns starting film commissions. And now Turlock has one - years after Modesto formed one - to entice or assist Hollywood film crews to use their towns as a filming location for movies, or TV shows or music videos.

Resist the notion, please, Ceres Chamber of Commerce. Aside from the fact that Ceres has few tourist spots anyway, there's not a lot of places that would necessarily make for a great movie setting here - or Turlock - for that matter.

Hollywood routinely scouts for film locations to suit their production needs and these film commissions are often formed hand in hand with local Chambers of Commerce to make it easier to work with the community. Enthusiasm seems to gush from Turlock Chamber of Commerce president Michael Everett and CEO Sharon Silva who helped form the Turlock Film Commission. Valley towns, however, don't seem to offer much to Hollywood. Evidence of this is found in the lack of many productions which have come to the area. Really, I understand that communities get a big infusion of business and cash when film crews come to any town. Such was the case when a crew filmed shots for the "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" film at air strips in Fresno and Firebaugh. Loads of cash - an estimated $250,000 to $300,000 - was infused into the local economy by the production company. Entertainment has lots of money to spend on sets and jobs and lodging and food. The problem is such business is very rare and sporadic at best.

On location filming sites are, of course, sought by Hollywood all the time. Ultimately it's how a setting fits in with the movie that drives the choice. Remote as filming opportunities may be 300 miles north of the entertainment capital, Valley towns offer little despite such claims as Everett who says Turlock is a prime location. Beg to differ as a cynic, but what does a community like Turlock - or Ceres - for that matter offer a film crew?

One area that has seemed to generate interest for Hollywood in past decades has been eastern Stanislaus County and the terrain and railroad in Tuolumne County. Drawing lots of attention has been the Keystone area of Highway 108 which held a movie set built for Back to the Future III and Bad Girls. Interest was evident in the burg of Murphys, home to the early 1980s CBS-TV series "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (for which I played an extra on four occasions).

Ebb and flow can be used to describe the limited interest Hollywood has had in our part of the Valley, however. Sometime in the early 1970s, Peter Fonda came to Oakdale and Sonora and parts of the Delta area around Stockton for the filming of "Dirty Larry and Crazy Mary." Getting screen time were the outside of a Sonora Save Mart store and the inside of an Oakdale store for the same robbery scene. Effective as a location for the pilot movie of "Little House on the Prairie" was the Orvis Ranch's rolling hills east of Oakdale, picked out by Michael Landon himself. TV production crews of Landon's also filmed episodes of "Highway to Heaven" in La Grange and at Lake Tulloch near Copperopolis. Lights and cameras accompanied Tom Selleck, Ben Johnson, Sam Elliott and Katherine Ross to scenic Knights Ferry in 1982 to film "Shadow Riders" upstream from the covered bridge. Only about 10 miles to the south runs the Sierra Railroad tracks which brought David Carradine of "Kung Ho" TV series fame in the 1976 filming "Bound for Glory," a movie on singer Woodie Guthrie. Sets were built for a mock town along the same tracks for the filming of Nickelodeon with Burt Reynolds and Ryan and Tatum O'Neill who lodged in Modesto while on location. Two or three days were burned up by crews shooting a scene of "Howard the Duck" on the same tracks which intersect with Wamble Road east of Oakdale. If you think about it, tracks and foothills and pristine rolling foothills fit in great with western uses but Hollywood hasn't been interested in doing many of those.

No, I've not heard of a single film being shot in Ceres or Turlock for that matter. Pinning hopes on Hollywood to revive the economy seem like a long shot that hardly justifies the time and energy. At least one movie was shot in Modesto ("Dead Man on Campus" in 1998) over the years that I know of. Short of filming in a rural farm setting, I just don't see it happening for this area. Selling the area as the "prime location" sounds a bit far flung and wishful thinking indeed. In spite of the fact that George Lucas was raised in Modesto, he didn't even use the very county for his "American Graffiti" where the story takes place. Outrageous as it seems, George felt Petaluma looked more like Modesto and Stanislaus County than it does itself.

No, sorry, while Turlock was able to get attention for its encounter with Sarah - which made me smile - don't bet it will ever be the backdrop for a made-for-TV film like "Sarah Plain & Tall."

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