How to Make an Indie Film in Sonoma

I have an iPhone app called “Location Scout” that couples the device’s geo-location ability with the Internet Movie Database. What this means is that wherever I am, I can activate the app and instantly know what movies were shot there. On Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the app’s usefulness is well below, say, “potato salad,” which, frankly, isn’t even on the list. However, it can occasionally win a bet, solve an argument or brighten an otherwise dying conversation. In the case of Sonoma, California, however, it points to an interesting trend—one which I hope to address.

Daedalus Howell, writer-producer
When you activate Location Scout here in Wine Country, you’ll learn that bits of the teen-screamer I Know What Your Did Last Summer, and Rob Schneider’s reverse-anthropomorphic groaner The Animal, were shot here. Neither were great, nor do they utilize the fact that this is Wine Country. Of the two that did, 2008’s Bottle Shock and its predecessor by 13 years, A Walk in the Clouds, Sonoma was used as a double for our Wine Country rival Napa. More to the point, no film shot in Sonoma has ever been about Sonoma. So, I wrote one. Along the way, I learned why there aren’t any films about Sonoma–nothing terribly dramatic ever happens here and if it does, no one wants to talk about it. Consequently, I had to take some liberties. Many—perhaps too many. The result is something akin to Sideways meets Caddy Shack, with a little Karate Kid and Star Wars thrown in for good measure.

So here’s the set-up: When cocky Johnny Lee loses his job at the battery factory, he discovers testing nine-volt batteries with his tongue has turned him into a super-taster—someone who experiences the sense of taste with greater intensity than the average Joe. A wino with a past and a pretty tasting room manager believe Johnny’s raw talent can bring their Wine Country town a taste of victory at an international sommelier competition and best a corrupt businessman set on pumping in cheap plonk from out of state. Johnny’s learning curve, however, involves more than wine. He’s on a crash course in life and love and… You see where this is going, right? No? Okay, here’s a scene where I delicately crammed in all of the exposition.

A bistro. The place is abuzz with waitresses, waiters, patrons and commotion. Johnny Lee the 20-something super-taster and Drake Holiday, a charming rake and Wine Country magazine writer, huddle in a booth. A matronly waitress approaches.

WAITRESS: What’ll it be, boys?
HOLIDAY: The Sonoma scramble but easy on the Sonoma.
WAITRESS: We stopped serving breakfast three hours ago.
HOLIDAY: Remember Pearl Harbor?
WAITRESS: You mean World War Two?
HOLIDAY: (looks at watch) It’s still breakfast time in Hawaii, so let’s honor their sacrifice.
WAITRESS: (rolls eyes) And you?
JOHNNY: I’ll have the Sonoma Scramble too, but with extra Sonoma.
HOLIDAY: He can have my Sonoma.
Waitress absently nods and leaves the table.
JOHNNY: Thanks.
HOLIDAY: Least I can do. You gotta’n interesting story. A local entering the sommelier contest. Good underdog angle.
JOHNNY: Why does it have to be an underdog story.
HOLIDAY: Because you’re a townie. I don’t mean that in the pejorative sense. It’s just that —
JOHNNY: I’m a townie. It’s all right. I’m proud of being a Sonoman, born and raised.
HOLIDAY: And you’re in training?
JOHNNY: Start today.
HOLIDAY: Why would a master sommelier need to train?
JOHNNY: For starters, I’m not a master sommelier. I worked in the battery factory. Got canned. Met a wino and now I’m in training.
HOLIDAY: So it was a calling?
JOHNNY: I guess, you could say it was a calling.
HOLIDAY: Like that. Great quote.
JOHNNY: And I’m a super-taster.
HOLIDAY: (jotting; to himself) Has good taste. Who’s the wino?
JOHNNY: You shouldn’t call him a wino – he’s more of a wine enthusiast.
HOLIDAY: Hence, the bottle in the brown bag. If you’re a rich drunk you’re a wine enthusiast. If you sleep off your morning bender face-down in the Plaza, you’re a wino. Got a name?
JOHNNY: Charlie Laube.
(Holiday smiles incredulously, shakes his head.)
HOLIDAY:
Funny, Johnny. Charlie Laube is your wino trainer. Who’s your bullshit trainer? Pinocchio?
JOHNNY: Now I’m nervous. Is Charlie a whack-job or something?
HOLIDAY: Oh, crap, you’re serious. Whack-job? Not at all. Well, actually, yes. But… he hasn’t told you his rap? The man lives in an abandoned wine cave, you didn’t think to ask why?
JOHNNY: I don’t know, figured he was a Yeti or something.
HOLIDAY: You mean Sasquatch. Yetis are Himalayan. And they don’t exist.
(The waitress returns with two steaming plates, that she unceremoniously drops on the table.)
JOHNNY: So what’s Charlie’s deal?
HOLIDAY: Charlie was once a major winemaker. Years ago. Had his own winery, vineyards, everything. He was at the Paris Tasting of ’76.
JOHNNY: Was that a big deal? I wasn’t born yet.
HOLIDAY: It was the first time a California wine beat a French wine in a blind tasting. It’s what Star Wars is based on.
JOHNNY: You’re kiddin’ me.
HOLIDAY: Oh, yeah. Bunch of rebel California winemakers take on the Death Star of winemaking in France. And blow it up. Star Wars is totally based on the Judgment of Paris. Came out a year to the day, my friend.
JOHNNY: Holy crap.
HOLIDAY: More importantly, it’s why there’s a wine industry in California and specifically, it’s why we have the biz in Sonoma. The French used to dominate.
JOHNNY: And they’re the Dark Side?
(Holiday nods, sagely.)
JOHNNY: And Charlie was there?
HOLIDAY: He was Luke Skywalker. For 15 minutes. Had great wine, rumor was he would’ve swept. But there was an issue. His partner was pissed his own name wasn’t on the label. When Charlie refused to put it there, the partner sabotaged the wine. With merde-mort.
(Holiday sips his coffee.)
JOHNNY: What the hell is merde-mort?
HOLIDAY: It’s French. Literally means “crap death.” It’s a fungus that smells so bad, they say if crap could die, that’s what it would smell like. He put it in the wine. The judges basically exiled Charlie from France.
JOHNNY: Holy crap.
HOLIDAY: Holy crap-death, Batman. Charlie pretty much gave up after that. Moved into the cave.
JOHNNY: And what happened to his partner?
HOLIDAY: Malvino?
JOHNNY: Malvino.
HOLIDAY: You know him?
JOHNNY: He just bought the battery factory.
HOLIDAY: Typical. He made millions bottling plonk and selling it to rich shitheads. Now he buys up independent wineries and puts his name on them. Batteries, eh? Ambition knows no bounds.
JOHNNY: What I don’t get is why Charlie just didn’t keep going. Who cares if he didn’t win a contest?
HOLIDAY: The man was destroyed. He was leveraged to the hilt, put everything into winning that thing—then gone. It was all taken away from him.
JOHNNY: What about the authorities? I mean that’s cheating, right?
HOLIDAY: What authorities? Brother, the world of wine is probably the most cutthroat game there is. They say blood is thicker than water, but wine is thicker than blood. I think Jesus said that.
JOHNNY: That’s why they have communion.
HOLIDAY: And that’s why they have communion.
JOHNNY: So, this thing is kind of bigger than just the contest?
HOLIDAY: Jesus? Yeah he’s huge.
JOHNNY: No, I mean, everything else…
HOLIDAY: Oh, yeah, right. It’s big. But you, you’re the big story. You’re a Pulitzer waiting to happen. This is an exclusive, right?

This scene, and the rest of Super-Taster, is presently moldering atop a studio executive’s desk in Hollywood. However, if that good ol’ indie spirit of the early ’90s happens to come back, you might just find me in the Plaza with a digital camera, a couple of maxed-out credit cards and a dream. The real quandary is who to cast as the dashing writer? It’s a role that demands complexity and subtlety and a certain je ne sais quoi, not to mention the ability to nonchalantly drop French phrases into one’s patois. Hmm. I’ll have to gaze into the mirror and think about it a while.

Via Sonoma Magazine

Daedalus Howell is the author, most recently, of I Heart Sonoma: How to Live & Drink in Wine Country. His films can be seen on YouTube. To request an investment kit for “Super-Taster,” email him at dhowell@fmrl.com.