"All the Plaza's a Stage —
Extras Enjoy Brief Turn in Limelight
as Rob Schneider Shoots 'Animal' in Sonoma During Fake Earth Day Fair"

by John Beck, Press Democrat, 2 November 2000

"I haven't seen this many long-hairs since the Dead was touring," said Dory Pawlakos, surveying the throng of hippies and the crafts booths clustered along the Sonoma Plaza.

The hair might have been real, but the tie-dyes and Birkenstocks were props handed out before the "Animal" film crew began shooting scenes early Wednesday.

Actually, the entire plaza was a prop — a stand-in for the town of Elkerton, a similar quaint Northern California town where the vigilante Marvin Mange satisfies his itch to become a cop, thanks to the superhuman boost of animal transplants.

A Santa Cruz resident who stumbled across a local casting call two weeks ago, Pawlakos and about 80 other local wannabe actors — some long-hairs, some cropped — spent the entire day working as extras on the set of Rob Schneider's latest character comedy.

Actually, "work" might be an exaggeration.

"It's more like waiting and then waiting some more," said Robert Phillips, a Chevron assistant manager in Santa Rosa, who brought a book to read.

His big scene of the day? Walking hand-in-hand with a stranger down the street.

Waking up at 4:30 a.m. to arrive by 6, Phillips and his friend Joey McHugh both credit their film debut to their long, flowing manes. Even if they wind up on the cutting room floor, at $75 a day it's not a bad deal, with breakfast and lunch included.

"This is way better than a hard day at work," said McHugh, who runs a small Santa Rosa retirement home.

Blocking the intersection of First Street East and East Napa Street, the filming drew crowds of stargazers and gawkers. The most common refrain: "Is that him over there?"

The main attraction, Schneider, made a few appearances, even trying his hand at a stunt: flying across an intersection to simulate jumping cars like a cheetah. But most of the time, it was his body double, Gary Guercio, performing such stunts as falling off a bike or bounding over cars.

"That's part of the fun of bringing the movies to a small town," said production manager Richard Prince, who has traveled across the country shooting such films as "The Replacements" and "Rules of Engagement." "People can see how it really gets done, and maybe it demystifies it a little bit in terms of the process. It's a little like the circus coming to town."

Letting art imitate life, Prince is using local artists as extras to create an Earth Day fair for several scenes. In a scene being shot today, Schneider will chase a tie-dyed purse-snatcher through the Earth Day bazaar crowded with look-alike tie-dyed participants.

The chase takes place not far from the booth of psychedelic poster artist Stanley Mouse, who set up camp Wednesday, showcasing his array of kaleidoscopic paintings.

"The two mediums (painting and filmmaking) actually have a lot in common — there's a lot of waiting involved," said the popular Sonoma artist, working on a painting in his booth not far from the set. The creator of eight Grateful Dead albums and scores of Fillmore posters admits to having seen Schneider's last film "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" twice.

Aside from a downpour Monday, the film crew hasn't experienced much difficulty filming on the plaza so far, Prince said.

Sonoma Mayor Larry Barnett, watching the crew set up a new scene, said, "I think there was a lot of trepidation about doing this, especially with the traffic closures, but by and large the experience has been a positive one."

The last time a film crew closed traffic on the plaza was five years ago, when Ford shot a commercial. Based on this experience so far, Barnett said he would be open to future filming on the plaza.

"I wouldn't want it to happen more than a few times a year — although at a certain point, the movie-going public is going to say, 'Hey, I thought that was Elkerton.'"

Rhoda Petersen, a wine pourer at the Corner Store, said business has been down a little since filming began Monday.

"We still have people coming in and out, but they seem to have forgotten it's the wine country," she said, nodding to her empty bar.

The production company set aside $50,000 to help any plaza stores that can document losing business during the filming.

The crew of 150 workers is expected to spend about $500,000 in the area for hotel rooms, meals and catering, extras, warehouse rental and building materials, said Sonoma County film commissioner Catherine DePrima.

Wrapping two years ago, "Mumford" was the last Hollywood movie shot in Sonoma County.

"Animal" continues filming today and Friday on the Sonoma Plaza and Saturday on Calistoga's Lincoln Avenue. The full week of filming will amount to about 20 minutes of screen time when the film opens next summer, Prince said.

©2000 Press Democrat

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