Whether fact or fiction, expect the unexpected in Sonoma County for the next few months.
Two notorious bank robbers on the FBI's top 10 list will hide out in Santa Rosa. A wannabe police officer dismembered in an accident will be pieced back together with a menagerie of animal parts.
And remember the town of Sonoma? No longer. Try Elkerton, a similar quaint Northern California town, except there will be a bustling police station in the middle of the plaza instead of City Hall.
Taking a two-year hiatus since "Mumford" wrapped, Hollywood returns to film on location in Sonoma County with more star power than ever before.
In the next two months, actors Billy Bob Thornton, Bruce Willis, Cate Blanchett and Rob Schneider will set up camp mostly in Sonoma and Santa Rosa to film "Bandits" and "Animal."
Why Sonoma County all of a sudden?
"The small-town look is really big," said Sonoma County Film Commissioner Catherine DePrima. "They were also attracted to the area's diversity, from the redwoods to the coast. I think that we're pretty film-friendly here. While there's a process, and you can't just come in and do whatever you want, we try to do what's reasonable to accommodate them."
The first to begin filming will be "Animal," starring former "Saturday Night Live" actor Rob Schneider and "Survivor" breakout actress Colleen Haskell.
Invading the Sonoma downtown plaza from Oct. 30 through Nov. 3, the movie plays a bestial twist on the Frankenstein myth. Schneider is vigilante file clerk Marvin Mange, who drives his car off a cliff while chasing suspects. Half alive, he is rescued by a mad scientist who sews him together with animal parts.
"There's going to be a scene (filmed in Sonoma) where he's chasing after a purse snatcher," production manager Richard Prince said. "He's taken on animal characteristics and he's able to jump like a cheetah over cars."
Schneider's character will also make the most of organs from a horse, a chimpanzee and a seal.
North Coast environmentalist Julia "Butterfly" Hill will surely identify with Haskell's character, Rianna "Hummingbird" Jones, a nature lover who just so happened to live in a tree for a year.
During the daytime filming, traffic will be restricted primarily on First streets East and West, and Napa Street. The crew is also scheduled to shoot a scene in Calistoga.
On Wednesday, the Sonoma City Council granted a film permit after holding a special meeting to consider major concerns such as the effects on plaza businesses and traffic delays.
"I think it's been like 20 years since anything like this happened in and around the plaza," said council member Al Mazza.
Probably the most controversial movie in Sonoma County history because of graphic violence, "Scream" was partially filmed a few blocks from the plaza at the Sonoma Community Center in 1996.
"I'm sure there will be people who won't be happy with it, and I'm sure there will be people who are delighted," Mazza said.
Set for filming in late November, Marin County filmmaker Barry Levinson's "Bandits" is based on the true account of notorious bank robbers Joe Dougherty and Terry Lee Conner.
Willis and Thornton play the daring duo who knocked off banks across the country before being captured in 1985. In the film, they both fall in love with their kidnap victim, played by Cate Blanchett.
Already filming near Portland, Ore., the MGM project is expected to shoot at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa, where the film crew is also staying, along with several Santa Rosa houses and possibly a state park parking lot along the coast north of Bodega Bay.
Two movies filming this fall in Sonoma County, "Bandits" and "Animal," are looking for locals to appear as extras in a variety of scenes.
"Animal" casting director Lisa Beasley is looking for several hundred extras mostly men and women between the ages of 18 and 70, to appear as photographers, TV cameramen, Earth Day fair participants, precision drivers and "townsfolk types." A few children over the age of 10, with work permits, will be used.
An open casting call will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. Those interested should bring a recent color photograph. Those unable to attend should mail photos to Cast of Thousands, Attn: Sonoma Casting, P.O. Box 1687, Burbank, CA 91507.
The "Bandits" crew is looking for extras, doubles, stand-ins, all types of cars, and especially pink cars for a scene that will make Mary Kay proud. Those interested should mail a current photograph (a snapshot or Polaroid is fine), name, address, phone numbers, height, weight, sizes, along with car make, model, color and year, to Judith Bouley, "Bandits," c/o Flamingo Hotel, 2777 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, CA 95405.
©2000 The Press Democrat