PETALUMA, Calif. (KRON) – The pandemic has virtually shut down one of California’s most well known industries: Movie making. But a handful of films are currently in production despite all the restrictions. In fact, one of the first is a feature film being shot right now in Sonoma County.
Petaluma native and Hollwood producer and actor Ali Afshar is back on his home turf and says he’s glad to be away from the Los Angeles Coronavirus scene.
“Up here everybody’s still masked. Everybody’s protected. It feels a lot more, people are still people. It’s still more courteous. Not everybody’s so scared and negative,” Afshar said.
Afshar has brought his production team to his old family home to shoot his fourteenth movie in and around Petaluma. The film is called “A California Christmas”. Getting the project into production wasn’t easy.
“First and foremost it had to be legal,” he says. That involved getting clearances from state, county and city officials.
“Then came the hurdles with the union so we talked to Screen Actors Guild and the other participants. It was like a 30 page (rule) book. We had to make strict rules of getting your temperature taken, getting tested. And tests change. Some wanted a blood prick. Some wanted a mouth swab. Some wanted the nose swab. It was totally different.”
Another consideration was social distancing on set. COVID rules mostly prohibit intimacy on set. That’s not a problem for the two lead actors. They’re married and actually met on a previous Afshar film production shot in Petaluma called “Roped.” Josh Swickard of “General Hospital” soap opera fame is the male lead in this film.
“So being opposite my wife is, one it’s a dream because I get to act with my wife and two we don’t have to worry about some of the close proximity stuff because we are in close proximity off set.”
Afshar says having a married couple cuts out many of the COVID obstacles.
“They can get close. They can kiss. They can hold hands. It’s tremendously positive because imagine getting two stranger actors doing it. They probably wouldn’t even be comfortable doing it. We probably wouldn’t even ask them to do that.”
Lorynn York is not only the co-star and Swickard’s wife, she’s also the writer and producer of the film.
“Everyone’s asking all these questions about how production is going with COVID. I have other producers that are actually reaching out to me asking what are the rules. What’s happening when you get to set?”
Something as simple as hair and makeup is now new territory with COVID restrictions. Hair and make up artists wear PPE, including masks while working on the actors. But sometimes a little touch up is needed between takes and York says that’s when the actors are on their own.
“It’s so funny, the make up artists are trying to coach us what to do. It’s actually quite comical. (So they’re actually yelling make up instructions to you while you’re putting it on yourself?) Yeah, because they can’t actually,- touch – yeah. So that’s been fun.”
The film set tradition of catered meals and hanging out with colleagues for shop talk has been replaced with social distancing and pre-packaged dishes.
“Now we’re actually limited to two people per table and the tables are well over six feet apart and people are sitting at opposite ends,” said York. Still, everyone on set knows what their doing is new. And Swickard says the rest of Hollywood is watching to see how it goes.
“It’s an interesting, uncharted territory and we’re super fortunate to be one of the first productions going and figuring it out for maybe other production companies.”
The hope is “A California Christmas” will be ready in time for release before the holiday.
Four of Ali Afshar’s Petaluma area films are now streaming on Netflix. “Lady Driver”, “Roped”, “The Stand at Paxton County”, and “Bennet’s War”.
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