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Hollywood Is Here

Which industry brings millions of dollars of revenue to our local area and generates pride, opportunity, participation, and tourism? 

While the movie capital of the world may be Los Angeles, away from the glitz and glamor of the Hollywood Hills, our local filmmaking scene deserves its moment in the spotlight, too.

As I type, the world, seemingly, is shocked at the exclusion of Sacramento-born Greta Gerwig from the Oscars Best Director nominees’ list for her 2023 hit Barbie. While Gerwig’s name is an extremely strong start to the “Sacramento Walk of Fame” (if there was one), there are other filmmakers in the area who could also be nominated for a star.

Tom Cruise with Kathleen Dodge, executive director of the El Dorado Lake Tahoe Film & Media Office


 If you part the trees of El Dorado National Forest or wander around Lake Tahoe, you’re going to find many a film set. Juli Johnson and Kathleen Dodge are “selling” the beautiful landscapes of Placer County and El Dorado County, respectively, as locations every day and have been for many years. The types of productions they see range from commercials for big household-name brands to high-grossing, world-famous movies, and everything in between. 

Dodge recounts the filming of Top Gun: Maverick around Lake Tahoe. She speaks with pride about how out of all the possible locations in the world, Jerry Bruckheimer and Tom Cruise chose this area for some of the film’s most dramatic scenes. “It was a highlight of my career,” she tells me. “To be invited on set and to meet Tom Cruise. They were all complete pros, generous, and talented.”

But while there are production teams and stars that fly in and out, there are local, high-caliber filmmakers whose roots are firmly planted in our area. Deon Taylor and Roxanne Avent Taylor established Hidden Empire Film Group, a production company that aims for greater on-screen representation and to “disrupt the industry” through their art. They’re behind movies such as Traffik, Meet the Blacks, and last year’s Fear, all of which were filmed in this area. The duo was instrumental in keeping the local film industry going during the pandemic. “We owe them a debt of gratitude,” explains Dodge.

Clean Up the Lake


Films are also a great vehicle for activism. Robert Craig Films, based in Rocklin, aims to produce films that have a social impact and inspire audiences to be more empathetic. The screenplay for No Address (out this fall) was an obvious fit, with its storytelling of the country’s growing unhoused population.

Jennifer Stolo of the production team tells me how Craig was passionate about making the movie as authentic as possible.  The team took a bus across 18 states to 22 cities gathering interviews, witnessing the issue for themselves, and understanding the unbreakable spirit of unhoused people.

Stars of the movie—including William Baldwin and Ashanti—spent time in encampments in the Greater Sacramento area including Folsom and Placerville, helping them tell these stories as authentically as possible. The full-length feature film and supporting material aim to elevate the conversation and inspire compassion. 

Elevating the conversation, or perhaps delving deeper into subject matter, is what inspired Colin West. West used to travel the world making films about wine, but after basing himself in Tahoe City, started to take a greater interest in the lake. He realized that beneath its tranquil surface, it needed cleaning up.

No Address


He founded nonprofit Clean Up the Lake, now a major operation, organizing clean-up dives and lake-shore trash pickups to great effect in places like Tahoe and the cayes in Belize. West believes everyone can make a difference—and this simple yet powerful call to action was almost the title for his environmental film, 72 Miles, a documentary highlighting the litter and waste problems facing Lake Tahoe and the ambitious work of Clean Up the Lake. It’s currently at the editing stage. 

With all this talk of nature, you might be wondering about the effects of filmmaking on our beautiful landscape, as well as in the communities. Johnson explains that moviemakers must obtain numerous permits from local authorities before filming, while Dodge recounts how the Top Gun team was noticeably careful to leave no trace. In her experience, production companies are incredibly environmentally responsible. 

Film may leave no trace on our land, but it does leave a lasting impression on the local economy: think accommodation, catering, and transportation, along with the paper for scripts, therapists for injuries, a massage at the end of a busy day, wood to build a set, and the crew purchasing souvenirs—the list goes on. Over the past 30 years, the El Dorado Lake Tahoe Film & Media Office has seen revenue of between approximately $1 million to $6 million per year (calculated using an industry formula) and an approximate, but huge, 2,000% return on investment over that same time.

Aside from the movie dollars, Dodge extols the less-tangible benefits. People feel pride in their movie-location cities and the opportunities that become available are invaluable: young people can witness many professions on show, from the glamorous stars to carpenters building sets, and may be able to participate via employment or perhaps their home being a set. And then, of course, there’s a boost in tourism, both from moviegoers and the movie stars alike who often return to the beautiful spots they didn’t have time to explore.
 This area is rich in filmmaking. Yes, there are movies with big names that benefit residents in myriad ways, but there are films and documentaries being made that focus on our values: existential, thought-provoking issues that help to spread awareness.

So, here’s to those NorCal disruptors, those that make us aware, the filmmakers that shock. An Oscar may be one of the greatest movie endorsements but perhaps for these films, it’s the differences that moviegoers make that are the real measure of success.

by Caroline Kings
No Address photo courtesy of Robert Craig Films. Other photos courtesy of their respective companies or organizations.