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.)
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

Letter Frequency Learned by Typing with a Sliver

SliverSomehow, I’ve managed to get a sliver imbedded in the tip of my left middle finger. It’s in deep enough that it will require tweezers to properly extract, but I’m on deadline enough to refuse tweezing until I’ve filed this piece. What this amounts to is a certain amount of wincing pain every time I type the letters E, R, S, T, which also happens to spell the sound I make when I type them. ERST!

It’s all about letter frequency. We can thank Samuel Morse, inventor of Morse Code, for running the numbers on these particular letters. He wanted to ascribe the simplest code he could to the most frequently used letters, which he ascertained by visiting the local printer and counting the amount of each letter kept in the typeset drawers. This approach was not scientific so much as ingeniously lazy.   What else should we expect from the putative godfather of texting, our most elegantly evasive means of maintaining social correspondence? Just think, we went from tapping telegraph messages with our forefingers to texting with our thumbs in, like, only six generations. There seems to be some evolutionary mojo behind our journey from fingers to opposable thumbs, not to mention the move from digits to digital, though our language seems to have devolved in the process. LOL.

For the definitive word on letter frequency, I turned to Oxford Dictionaries, “The World’s Most Trusted Dictionaries,” according to their site, which is ironic to read ONLINE, given the all-digital destiny of its shelfmate, the Encyclopedia Brittanica whose own site is tagged with the terse, “Facts Matter,” as if in rebuttal to Wikipedia’s, “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” Accordingly, the most frequently used letters in English are, in order of usage, E, A, R, I, O, T.

You can file that under, “How to Kill a Cocktail Party Conversation.”   And here’s your mnemonic: The string of letters looks a bit like “Ear Riot.” Sounds like an indie record label from the ’90s. Remember records, or labels, or the ’90s? Yeah, that decade was like the opposite of, say, Woodstock, in so many ways – if you can remember it, you were there and you’re “a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me?” Or at least torture me with small bits of wood lodged in my fingertips.

One would think my 2.5-year-old would have cornered the market on slivers. Instead, he and most of his preschool is working the viral conjunctivitis angle. I’m praying I don’t catch it before my next photoshoot. Photoshop may help with red-eye but pink eye? Not so much. Besides, I’ve got enough photos of myself with bloodshot eyes. Well, they’re really mug shots but my dear old mum can’t tell the difference and shows them off, explaining, “He’s the writer.” If I ever get my hands on an FBI Most Wanted poster, I’ll tell her it’s my brother, “He’s the musician.” He was signed to Ear Riot Records in the ’90s, you know.

It wasn’t until this very moment that I recalled that I knew a woman who had gone head-first through the windshield of her car. She recovered but for years afterward fine slivers of glass would occasionally push out of her pores. ERST! Clearly, my thorn-in-paw situation is nothing compared to a face full of safety glass. I suppose I should stop complaining, or at the very least stop writing, get a pair of tweezers and find a better use for my middle finger.

• • •

Daedalus Howell points out that ERST and EARIOT together are an anagram of ROTE SATIRE at

Via Splinters, safety glass and the Ear Riot label – Sonoma News – News 2012 – Sonoma, CA

5 Time Management Techniques for Writers

People often ask me how it is I?m able to get so much done (and for so little money)? The answer is hard-won time management strategies. In my racket, which I?ll refer to as the ?Writing Game,? generating mass amounts of seemingly sensible brain candy is key to my survival. Likewise, producing equally high piles of steaming whatever-it-is-you-do is probably key to your survival. Good time management is my secret weapon against deadline anxiety and the looming fear of dying without an adequately impressive oeuvre.

Though the lessons I?ve learned while navigating my writing career aren?t remotely revolutionary, they?ll likely have analogous application in your own pursuits, seeing as deep down we?re all just money-grubbing bastards. Continue reading “5 Time Management Techniques for Writers”

When Marketing Turns Evil

I have an evil streak in me – a certain low-grade sociopathy that emerges in my personality whenever notions involving “marketing” cross my consciousness. As a teenage telemarketer, I was exposed to the dark arts of the hard-sell and as with any gateway drug, I quickly progressed through a series of marketing-related experiences that I’ve never let spoil a curricula vitae otherwise dedicated to wordsmithing.  

Mind you, not all marketers experience the shame I have, nor should they – unless they’ve done what I’ve done. I specialized in scaring homeowners into buying alarm systems by reading them the police blotter. Bad enough, right? Then I discovered the Internet. And invented spam.   You see, marketing is that peculiar twilight where the creative and commerce meet. What at first seems like harmony, however, rapidly degenerates into something else entirely.

Ever get your ears infected with ear-worms – or “jingles” as the Mad Ave tunesmiths call them? Yeah, that’s a songwriter who’s going to hell. Then there’s the marketing trolls hiding in the thickets of your Facebook account. Just remember “social media marketing” is the crack to traditional marketing’s cocaine.  

I didn’t feel evil about marketing until I was stuck in traffic on I-5 and my passenger pal threw on a Bill Hicks disk. The comedian opened with the line: “If anyone here is in marketing or advertising … kill yourself. Thank you. Just planting seeds, planting seeds is all I’m doing. No joke here, really. Seriously, kill yourself, you have no rationalisation for what you do, you are Satan’s little helpers. Kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself now. Now, back to the show.”  

Gulp. At first I was offended by the late Hicks’ words (he died of pancreatic cancer in the mid-’90s, or at least that’s what his marketing reps say). Clearly, not all marketing is intrinsically evil. My wife is a marketer – in plainest terms, she sells macaroni and cheese to other moms seeking a natural and organic alternative to the neon orange noodles we grew up on. I accept that marketing is a necessary part of the capitalist equation.

However, the type of marketing I’ve come to abhor, which I believe Hicks was decrying, occurs when people are convinced to spend their hard-earned money on crap they don’t need. Like the WineStraw.  

“Red wine, red teeth and red with embarrassment – sound familiar?  Not anymore.  It’s time for wine lovers to smile brighter!  Introducing WineStraws, the first (and only) straws that let wine lovers enjoy drinking red wine without compromising their smile, or the quality and taste of the wine.”  

I did not make this up. Nor this: “WineStraws are a chic, innovative and cost effective solution to red wine woes.” Say that three times fast – “red wine woes.” Did Satan show up?   Now, I appreciate the ingenuity, the process of isolating a pain-point in the consumer experience (stained teeth) and offering a simple, elegant and inexpensive solution. I also applaud the directness with which the marketing minds have laid out their pitch, which arrived in my inbox earlier this week. But, as any wine professional will tell you, wine lives in the nose as much as the palate. Unless there’s an attachment that goes up one’s nostril, I don’t see how the WineStraw aids one’s appreciation of wine so much as one’s vanity. After all, it’s inventor (whom I’ll leave nameless if not blameless) created the straws for, among others, “the wine lover who recently underwent professional teeth whitening …”  

Perhaps receiving these kind of releases is a sort of karmic payback for peddling fear and virtual pork products. I’ll take this bullet, Sonoma. And if I haven’t made my perceptions clear, permit me to report and opine simultaneously that, in a word, WineStraws suck.

via Sonoma News – News 2012 – Sonoma, CA