There are few businesses that can infuse as much cold, hard cash into a community in as short a timeframe as three weeks like a movie production. Depending on the size and budget, a film crew can have an immediate and substantial financial impact on a wide range of services, including: hotels, restaurants, catering, transportation, carpenters and electricians, rentals, and employment for folks who want to be in a movie. And in San Benito County’s case, horses and even an ornery bull.
When Mad Rodeo Productions came to San Benito County looking for locations for its film, “Lasso,” the business community and Chamber of Commerce were ready to lend a hand.
BenitoLink caught up with Todd Myers, CEO and president of Mad Rodeo Productions—who is not only executive producing “Lasso,” but also acting in it—late at night April 28 at Bolado Park, where the crew was filming a scene along a dirt road behind the rodeo arena. While bright lights surrounded the actors, it was pitch black everywhere else. Dim ambient light drifted down the road to illuminate Myers as he talked about his first independent film.
“I don’t like to use the word ‘surreal’ too often, but it’s really what it is,” Myers said. “I’ve only been doing this for two-and-a-half years from when I took my first beginners’ acting class.”
Myers, who has five children and is 48, but looks much younger, is not only an actor and producer, he is a motivational speaker, author, owns a window-cleaning business in Brentwood, and was active in a number of sports, including skiing and five basketball leagues.
Then everything changed.
Playing and coaching basketball caught up with him and he had to undergo a double hip replacement. And while recuperating, a friend called and told him the cast of the television series, “Walking Dead,” was staying at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego during the annual Comic-Con International event. The friend knew Myers’ three girls loved the show and, in particular, one of the actors, Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl Dixon. The friend told him that the television crew had reservations for a table of 50 at the hotel. So Myers immediately reserved a table for 20 for his family and friends right next to the “Walking Dead” crew.
The girls met and took selfies with Reedus and Myers attended Comic-Con, where he met and became friends with actor, Sean Patrick Flanery (known for “Boondock Saints” and “The Dead Zone”), who was acting in the scene being filmed just down the dirt road from where the BenitoLink interview was taking place.
Myers said he was mistaken for an actor at Comic-Con and thought “why not?” He immediately started taking acting classes. At first, he was uncomfortable doing so, but it was a great way to open up and change his perspective on life. Hundreds of auditions later, he landed his biggest role, so far, in a six minute scene alongside Dwayne Johnson in the 2015 action film, “San Andreas.”
“Something like that can turn your life around,” he said. “People see you’re putting all this energy in something new. So, I’m doing auditions, acting gigs, I’m in class, and it’s exhausting.”
In a convoluted tale that no scriptwriter could come up with, he met Evan Cecil on the set of a film and invited him to fly with the Patriots Jet Team, with which his brother flies and his mother sponsors. Myers and Cecil talked primarily about movies, and then Myers basically told Cecil if he wanted to make a one, then he would finance it.
“It was a crash course for me on how to be a producer and make a film,” Myers said.
The $2.6 million movie—starring Flanery and Lindsey Morgan (of the TV series The 100)—had been filming at Bolado Park for three weeks and wrapped up April 29, but not after having a significant financial impact on the county.
Myers said San Benito County was chosen as the primary location for the film because of Bolado Park and the rodeo arena. He said there are only so many rodeo arenas in Northern California from which to choose from, but it was also important to find one where the people operating it were excited about having a movie production use its facilities.
Donnette Carter, CEO and manager of the Bolado Park Event Center, said one of the film’s producers, Elaine Gibson, contacted her early on and came out to see what the park had to offer.
“What was exciting, the more we looked around the fairgrounds the more ideas they came up with for particular scenes,” Carter said. “They came out with an idea how to use the arena, but as we continued to explore Bolado Park they found other areas that would work. It was fun to see the creative wheels spinning as to what they could use for various scenes.”
Carter said there was a week of pre-production when sets were built—and later donated to the park—and over the three weeks most of the filming was at night. She said the crew went out of its way to accommodate the park by staying out of the way of other events. She described it as a “very positive experience.”
During the first two days of shooting, more than 50 extras, most of whom were locals, were on the set. Carter said the production company had also been talking with the San Benito County Saddle Horse Show and Rodeo to arrange coming back in June to film “pick-up shots” of rodeo events to include in the film. She said that another film crew has also since been scouting the area recently.
“We’re hoping this is a nice start to having other opportunities for filming for us, as well as the entire county,” Carter said, adding that because of the positive experience with the “Lasso” production, the park will start looking at marketing opportunities to attract more film production companies.
When the production company showed up at Bolado Park to make a movie that is essentially a horror story that involves a rodeo, it was a bit short on a vital element: horses. And that’s how Jennifer Galindo-Cole rode in to the rescue, literally.
Galindo-Cole owns the 80-acre Down n’ Out Ranch, which rescues horses, near San Juan Bautista, and said she is a big believer in the “four degrees of separation” phenomena when it comes to how she got involved with the production.
“My sister’s niece went to high school with one of the assistant producers who put out a casting call for local horses for livestock and background in the movie,” she said. “I furnished six horses.”
Galindo-Cole said Myers even adopted one of the horses for his girlfriend.
“She has an 8-year-old son and he adores the horse,” she said. “That’s the best thing I could hope for to happen to any of these animals.”
Juli Vieira, president/CEO of the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce, worked closely with Carter to provide the production company with information about lodging, dining and other services in the county. In addition to helping with the Lasso production, she said the Chamber is already working with another independent film company.
“They’ve been here about two weeks scouting the area,” Vieira said. “They’re looking for an old barn or some flat land, and we put them in contact with people in the community so they can go out and look at those places. They take pictures and went back to their producers.”
She said the production company will bring 30 to 40 people to the county during filming. Unfortunately, she said, the county does not have enough rooms at a single hotel to accommodate the crew, which is a significant financial loss for San Benito County, but a huge boon for Gilroy.
“I tried to book rooms for them in San Benito County, but had to send them to the Gilroy Hilton,” she said. “They’re going to be here for 30 days and needed 30 to 40 rooms. Everything was already booked. We figure we sent Gilroy a half-million dollars because we didn’t have the facilities here to take care of them.”
Vieira said more filming opportunities are coming from the California Film Council.
“They’ll have a production looking for an old farm house or perhaps a restaurant with a 1950s feel, or motorcycle or a horse ranch,” she said, “and we e-mailed back and let them know what we have in our community. I get weekly inquiries.”
The latest television production in the county involved the reality series, “Hotel Impossible,” which recently taped an episode in San Juan Bautista.
“They were working with the Posada Hotel,” she said. “We worked with one of their associate producers who was asking for background information about San Benito County. We helped get her in contact with Hollister Hills because they wanted to add information about that. The episode is supposed to air sometime this summer.”
On May 4, Myers called BenitoLink to say that he and an eight-person crew would indeed return to get rodeo shots. “It won’t be much of a film about rodeo without them,” he said, “so we’re looking forward to coming back.”