Wooing Hollywood to Wine Country

Pray tell, is it “campaign” or “champagne” season? I always get those two confused, seeing as corks tend to pop around voting booths, at least when I’m around. You see, I’m a political demigod – I learned long ago that true power, like crap, is taken not given.? Or, at least that?s how I imagine it. Everything I know about politics I learned hanging around the office of a ?West Wing? producer, where the Emmys were so abundant they were handed out as door prizes for dropping by.

Similarly powerful producers overran Sonoma last weekend. They were part of an envoy dubbed ?Guild and Grapes,? a program that brings members of the Producers Guild of America to wine country. Though their collective credits could crash IMDB, the Internet Movie Database (mine could too but only because of the viruses), it fell upon me to act as Sonoma County?s de facto emissary to the motion picture industry. I exhibited such intimacy with ?Schmoozing and Boozing? that one might conclude they were family relations of mine from the old country.

My charge was to lead the producers through various locations where film had been shot in Sonoma County. This included pit stops at Potter School in Bodega where Hitchcock shot the ?The Birds? as well as a few favorite locations in Petaluma (?American Graffiti? and ?Peggy Sue Got Married? but not ?Howard the Duck?). In the Valley, we were kindly hosted by Kunde Family Estate (replete with private barrel tasting), the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art (with a fine greeting by executive director Kate Eilertsen and wines provided by Muscardini Cellars poured by the man whose name is on the award-winning bottle) and cave dinner at Nicholson Ranch, catered by Victoria Campbell of Brick and Bottle. A fine time was had by all. The only starlet who stormed off the set was moi, seeing as I was late for Sonoma International Film Festival alumni Abe Levy and Silver Tree?s on-set soiree during the shoot of their feature ?Lawless.?

This is what I learned about film producers when they are not in their natural habitat ??A) It?s extremely easy to get a green light when the glasses are full of red (the motion picture version of my life will be coming soon to theater near you); B) Other counties, states and countries offer rebates and incentives to film productions because they tend to be large, unwieldy users of resources for which they happily pay. They?re sort of like tourists but fatter, hungrier and require many more beds.

Though I don?t believe those minding the budgets of our local governments, let alone our citizenry, would cotton to the notion of wooing a Hollywood bankroll with taxpayer cash, it does behoove us to attract big spenders to the area. Executed correctly, a virtuous loop could develop wherein productions beget additional productions by virtue of our inherent hospitality and scenic locations, duly depicted on the silver screen. It?s like there paying us to make a commercial for Sonoma, which, by the way, I have yet to see ??done right.

Dig this ??Sonoma County hasn?t had a film commissioner as such since the last century (though the Sonoma County Economic Development Board?s executive director Ben Stone and Colette Thomas do an admirable job with film-related biz, as does their colleague Kevin Lopeman at the county?s Permit and Resource Management Department). This astounds me. In fact, it rallies me to political action: I hereby declare myself Film Commissioner of Sonoma Valley. So there.

As your newly (self)appointed film commissioner, I will endeavor to bring both studio and independent productions to the Valley, get heads and beds and turn restaurant dead days into humming commissaries. Local actors and artisans rejoice ??their film permits will be contingent on your employment.

Now, if you contest my appointment or believe you could do a better job (insert haughty laughter), it?s yours. Now, get me permission to shoot my transmedia epic, ?Winos? on the Plaza and a tax rebate for the privilege of doing so. Or you?ll never do lunch in this town again. Now, where?s the champagne?