"Council to Movie Crew: Roll 'Em!"

by Neal Ross, Sonoma Index Tribune, 12 October 2000

In two weeks, the city of Sonoma will be cinematically transformed into the blithe little hamlet of Elkerton, following a decision Wednesday night by the City Council.

Councilmembers, in a special session, voted 4-1 to allow Elle Pictures to shoot a street fair and other footage in and near Sonoma Plaza as part of the motion picture, "The Animal," starring Rob Schneider and Adam Sandler.

The shoot, scheduled for Oct. 30 to Nov. 3, will include a two-day partial closure of First Street East and East Napa Street. Another sequence will be shot on First Street West, just north of Eraldi's Mens Wear, with a third in front of City Hall itself — which will be gussied up as the Elkerton Police Station.

Councilmember Louis Ramponi voted against the idea, objecting to anticipated revenue loss by affected local merchants, increased traffic, and the disguising of — and possible business disruption to — Sonoma City Hall during filming.

"City Hall is not for sale," Ramponi said.

Ramponi's sentiments echoed others' during the nearly 2½-hour meeting, including several who said that anything affecting part of the Plaza affects the entire Plaza.

"If I had to wait a half-hour for traffic to back up, I'd be really angry," said Patten Street resident Dr. Douglas Smith. Other merchants anticipated problems with receiving deliveries, or with customer parking or access.

But Mayor Larry Barnett, expanding on a suggestion by tavern owner and former mayor Larry Murphy, included as a condition that filmmakers donate $50,000 toward compensating any businesses affected by the shoot. Claims will be verified through a reimbursement committee chaired by City Manager Pam Gibson.

"This isn't, 'Hey, I think you guys screwed me — I need more money," Barnett said, adding that the reimbursement hinged on "the honesty and good will of our merchants."

"Maybe I'm being naive, but we'll find out," Barnett said.

The film features Schneider as a well-meaning but bumbling police officer who receives various animal-organ transplants enabling him to "run like a cheetah and swim like a dolphin," according to Elle spokeswoman Molly Allen.

Sonoma's part in the shoot features an Earth Day fair in First Street East, over which Schneider bounces — aided in real life by a crane — to pursue a suspected purse-snatcher. The swearing-in of Schneider's character, as well as a press conference and miscellaneous dialogue, will be shot at City Hall. Sandler is not expected to take part in the local filming.

Part of Wednesday night's discussion revolved around issues of traffic control, both for passers-through and Sonoma locals. Detour signs will likely be posted at Andrieux Street or West MacArthur, warning motorists to avoid the Plaza during the two-day street closures. Production assistants and off-duty police officers will staff the barricades separating Sonoma from Elkerton.

Filmmakers estimate some $540,000 will find its way to area coffers during the five-day proceedings, including $175,000 for hotels and restaurants, $75,000 in locations fees, and $100,000 in construction and set dressing. A casting call will be held between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., tomorrow at the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St.

©2000 Sonoma Index Tribune

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