June 16, 2006

The first phone call went something like this. I said, “ Hi, I understand that you want to film a movie in Sunol?” “Yes”, James replied. “What exactly are you looking for?” I asked. “Well, the movie is sort of a psycho-thriller that takes place in a small town...” (Clearheart, population 152…”)

From that moment on I knew we would be filming a movie here in Sunol. Director James Cotton’s script, “The Confessional”, which he wrote in only one month after having the idea eight years ago, could have been the epitome of any small town. But a missed exit off highway 680 and a wrong turn led the filmmaker to the little hamlet we call home.

Although several of the films scenes were shot in other Bay Area locations such as Petaluma, Oakland, Livermore and Pleasanton, the majority was filmed in Sunol. The film’s crew transformed our quaint, cute, Little Brown Church into a sinister place of worship. Sunol Glen School’s stainless steel cafeteria kitchen had the exact scene requirements to be turned into a morgue.

Once a nursing home for aging seniors, Elliston Vineyards stately stone mansion, which now houses a tasting room and dining area, was again used as a retirement home in the film. Also featured in the film were Cliff and Sharon Pepper’s beautiful and unique Victorian home, the Van Dyke’s ranch, Sunol Foods, the Sunol Coffeehouse, the Sunol Train Depot and Whistle Stop Antiques.

Pleasanton resident and Executive Producer, Martha Holder of Cornerstone Consulting Services, Inc. said, “Sunol was ‘a living set’; everything we needed was here”. Martha’s children Luke and Susanna both contributed to the film as well. Besides helping out around the set, Luke played a “detective” in one scene and Susanna lent her equestrian expertise during another.

Not since the TV movie “Take me Home Again” starring Kirk Douglas and Craig T. Nelson, was filmed here in 1994, has a full-length feature film taken our over town. One could not help but notice their presence as cast and crew transcended upon each location sometimes working 12 hour days, 6 days a week. I have never worked with such a talented, hardworking, dedicated and professional group of people as they were.

Residents would stop and stare, some taking pictures, curious about all the commotion. Other locals including, Jan Cornish, Jessica Christian, Mike Christian, Bob Foster, Adam Gonsalves, Revlyn Gonsalves, Chris Morris, Kathy Morris, Hayley Nielsen, Lori Nielsen, (call antique store), Kevin Matlock, Jane Sugaoka, Guin Van Dyke, Ari Vlacos, Cade Vlacos, Ario Ysit and Daniel Zinna were invited to be extras in several scenes of the movie.

James began casting the film in both San Francisco and Los Angeles on March 1; pouring over thousands of actor’s resumes. He actually auditioned 987 for only approximately 34 character parts in the movie. The movie began filming in Sunol on May 9 and finished on June 2 and like they say in the movie biz, “on time and on budget”!

Among the many cast members there are several character actors you may have seen on other films and television. The lead actor, Peter Quartaroli has appeared in “Scorpion King”, Jane Longedecker appeared in JAG and Victor Browne appeared in “CSI:NY”, “Lost”, “Sex and the City” and “One Life to Live” and Bettina Devin appeared in “Rent”. Actor Quinn Redecker, co-wrote, “The Deer Hunter” and has appeared in “CSI:Miami”, Days of Our Lives and “Barnaby Jones”. The films only child actor, Noah Maschan actually received tutoring daily on the set.
Also on board was famed Los Angeles makeup artist Damon Charles. With a professional resume a mile long, Damon has worked with many major movie stars and he has the most fabulous stories. I would arrive on set just to hear him talk. Not only is he a gifted artist, his special effects work is equally admirable

Multi-talented, James is also an accomplished musician and actor. He began playing the piano at 4 yrs old and went on to earn a scholarship to Chico State. Playing keyboards professionally for over 30 years, James has released 3 jazz music CD’s. He has written and composed the musical score for several small films, and PBS TV commercials; he was a tech director on music video’s before the world of MTV was born and he has acted in several films including “Made in America”, “Phenomenon”, “Down Time”, “Patch Adams” and “Rent”.

And what movie set is not complete without food? Angelo’s Catering-On-wheels truck was parked daily at the Sunol Train Depot providing delicious hot meals and a variety of snacks for cast and crew.

Art Department Manager, Laura Mendoza, used her brilliant talent to disguise an orange in a very unusual way by spraying it gold and hanging it inside an upside down potted plant holder, and voile they had an iron looking church bell.

Of course there had to be a “only in Sunol” moment when a rattlesnake invited itself in the social hall during filming in the church (don’t worry “no animals were harmed during the filming of this movie”); the brave director and crew scooped it into a garbage bag and deposited the slimy creature back outside in the dry creek bed.

The film’s wrap party on June 11 was held upstairs at Bosco’s and was a mixture of emotions as cast, crew and residents said their goodbyes, promising to stay in touch. It was truly sad to see them go, but I’m told that’s what happens when you work in the film industry. You work very closely together and tend to develop great friendships then when the movie is completed you move on to other projects. Sometimes you work together again but most of the time you don’t.

Shot in full HD, there is still a lot of work to be done before the anticipated December completion date. Currently in post-production at Lionfish Studios in Alameda, James is writing the musical score for the movie, he said, “I love movies that have a theme; when you here the music you know the movie”. He is planning movie premieres in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. Although this is an independent film, major film distribution is hopeful.

Oh, and the name of the sequel? “The Gift”.

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