Turlock has the sort of small-town charm that Corbin Bernsen, famed actor from shows like “L.A. Law” and “Psych,” can't get enough of.
That's why he's filming his next project, a feature-length romantic comedy, right in the streets of Turlock.
Bernsen ended up in Turlock because of the Turlock Film Commission, a two-year-old effort to entice filmmakers to the Heart of the Valley. An actor friend who previously visited Turlock and knew Matt Swanson, co-founder of the Turlock Film Commission, suggested Bernsen visit.
And when he did, Bernsen was a bit surprised. Though he had some idea of what to expect from Turlock – his mother is from Taft, near Bakersfield – the actual town of Turlock surpassed his expectations.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” Bernsen said. “For as big as it is, it has a charm … the heart that I look for when I make a movie.”
It's that heart, that spirit that Bernsen tries to explore with his movies.
Sure, they may not have the sort of big budgets as Corbin's studio-backed hits like “Major League.” And he admits they're harder to do – you can't sit in your trailer eating a burrito, then show up to a scene five minutes late and collect a $100,000 paycheck.
But it's more fulfilling, he said.
“To sort of take your God-given imagination and give it a life, it's a different experience,” Bernsen said.
Turlock's first feature film will be written and directed by Bernsen. It will be produced and distributed by Bernsen's production company Home Theater Films, which focuses on smart family films for home distribution.
The film follows the journey of 30-year-old Gwyneth who is tired of dating jerks, and turns to a Christian dating website to find a nice guy. She meets Mr. Right – the son of a pastor – but there's only one problem: Gwyneth isn't exactly telling the truth about her Christianity.
“She's not not Christian, but she's not what he's looking for,” Bernsen explained.
He explained Gwyneth as one of those people who is Christian by default, but not really practicing. Not the sort of person that a pastor's son would be interested in, for sure.
While not an explicitly Christian film, Christianity clearly plays a major role in the film. It's a recurring theme in Bernsen's four previous films, all of which address faith as a central element.
“In the last five years, after my father died, my faith has become more important to me,” Bernsen said.
Bernsen pointed to the myriad problems in the world, which he sees as linked to an overall decline in faith. He said the morality and the sense of community that comes from faith are what make America work.
“As we lose them, we start to create a world we see in the news every day,” Bernsen said.
When people are involved in more community-based things like religion, people have a sense of responsibility, Bernsen said. The world just runs better when people are in touch with themselves and others, perhaps stopping short of acts of anger like school shootings, he said.
Bernsen said he's not trying to be evangelical with his films, but to explore what he calls the “front door to faith” that so many deny.
“I just want to invite people to explore faith as a lost part of who we are,” Bernsen said.
He described a scene from the upcoming film, where Gwyneth pauses before the front door of a church. She sees the words on the door, “All are welcome,” and takes the first step toward a better life.
“That scene just became a lot more important to me,” Bernsen said, as he talked through the scene.
To Bernsen, filmmaking isn't about money – except to be able to finance the next project.
“I've never in my life led with money,” Bernsen said. “I've always led with heart.”
Some of the money to make this film happen came from Swanson, who signed on as an executive producer to the film after getting to know Bernsen.
“Meeting Corbin, he and I really clicked on a lot of a lot of different levels,” Swanson said. “And I'm all about, 'How do I bring more to Turlock?'”
The move brings more credibility to the Turlock Film Commission, with a big-time feature film to the city's name. Swanson hopes that the film will draw more filmmakers to Turlock in the coming months and years.
And the look of Turlock will work perfectly for the movie, Bernsen said, despite the film's Chicago setting. Gwyneth lives in an arts district on the outskirts of town – a perfect area to represent with colorful Turlock storefronts like Main St. Footers. Mix in some footage of tall buildings, shot in Los Angeles, and Turlock can have that big-city feel on the big screen.
Scott Williams, the Director of Photography, will be responsible for making that magic happen. Williams previously shot “Psych” and “Northern Exposure,” among numerous other projects.
He, too, was surprised by what Turlock has to offer.
“I was expecting the dust bowl off the 99,” Williams said. “It's not what I expected, it's vibrant.”
Using big-name professionals behind the scenes like Williams, Bernsen wants to make it clear that this isn't a school movie project. It's a big time, credible feature production.
Despite the movie's professionalism, Bernsen wants to make sure the whole Turlock community gets involved.
“The way we make movies is community-based,” Bernsen said.
Of course, the filming will translate into an economic impact for Turlock. About three-quarters of the movie will be filmed here, Bernsen said, with lots of local spending.
And many Turlockers might actually end up on screen, as well.
An open casting call is currently scheduled for Nov. 25. No time or location is yet available, but both will be reported on TurlockCityNews.com as soon as they becomes available.
“I don't care if 500 people show up,” said Micheal Everett, founder of the Turlock Film Commission.
Bernsen expects to use between 200 and 300 extras in a variety of scenes. From businessmen to artists, he has a need for all types.
Additionally, Bernsen is looking to fill eight or ten roles that have a line or two of dialogue.
And for those who don't make it in the movie, they're likely to see Bernsen out and about town throughout the movie's shooting, scheduled to run from Dec. 3 to 18. Most scenes will be shot in and around downtown, or at California State University, Stanislaus.
Bernsen said that Turlockers should feel free to approach him and say hello, embracing the idea that this truly is a community-based film.
“We're really looking forward to it,” Bernsen said. “We want everyone to know that we mean it when we say it's community-based.”
Corbin Bernsen, Matt Swanson, and Michael Everett took a break from site selecting to talk to TurlockCityNews.com about their new film to be shot in Turlock. (Left to Right: Matt Swanson, Turlock Film Commission co-founder and Executive Director of Bernsen's new film, Michael Everett, Turlock Commission Founder and The Creation Lab partner, and Corbin Bernsen, writer and director of his new film to be shot in Turlock) Photo: David Fransen