When I first read about the prospect of film production studios for Dixon, and the glowing quotes from the person representing the project (Carissa Carpenter) I was reminded of the musical The Music Man which debuted back in 1957.
In the production, scam artist Harold Hill rolls into small-town River City, Iowa. His modus operandi is to get locals all enthused about him training musicians and forming a band, then selling them uniforms and instruments and skipping town with the profits without carrying through. However, in River City his plan runs into problems when he falls in love with the town’s librarian.
Some in Dixon are going to be perturbed because I’m going to approach the Morning View LLC-proposed film studio with skepticism. But after the uncritical articles in the Tribune and the Independent Voice, someone needs to be real.
Brianna Boyd’s enthusiastic first article in the Trib was titled “From open field to film studio.” In it, Carissa Carpenter talks about building a $2.8 billion, 400-acre (over half a square mile) film studio with waterways and a hotel.
Carpenter talks about little Dixon becoming a kind of Hollywood North, with movie stars walking around downtown, paparazzi lurking to photograph them, and homes being used for filming. Carpenter paints with big brush strokes. Yes, it is easy to get enthused about the world of filmmaking and stars and big projects and big money, which would put Dixon on the map (making up for the time we didn’t get the UC campus). It would mean jobs, people spending money here and the possible rise of home values.
But wait. Carpenter acknowledges that she and her cohorts have been looking all over northern California for a studio location for over 10 years. One wouldn’t think it would take that long.
In judging Carpenter and Morning View LLC, we should look at Carpenter’s past business record. Apparently, Carpenter’s original film experience came from being a casting agent in the Sacramento area, along with former husband Everett Blix. Around 15 years ago, they (or Carpenter only), under the name of Declaration Studios, began pushing for an entertainment and film studio complex in two different locations near Sacramento. Both efforts fell through.
Since then she has also been associated with Lathrop Green City Development LLC and Mare Island Studios. Mare Island Studios was an effort in 2010 and 2011 to locate a studio complex on Mare Island, which Vallejo is trying to develop. She along with some paid help got into some serious negotiations with Vallejo city staff, and at one point even paid $50,000 in fees to get things rolling. But the city claimed that she and Mare Island Studios missed agreed-upon deadlines and payments. From Carpenter’s side, there was a hint that she couldn’t arrange financing until the city approved the project, creating a Catch-22 situation. She said, “We have real lenders that have real money.” At any rate, the city dropped the project and went looking for other businesses for Mare Island.
In several instances, apparently, Carpenter or others hinted at an association with LucasFilm in Marin County. But the only association was a faint one – former LucasFilm exec Howard Kazanjian works with Carpenter. He left LucasFilm many years ago. And LucasFilm itself denied any connection with Carpenter.
Also last year, Carpenter and Morning View LLC approached Stanislaus County about building the studio complex on the site of the old naval airbase at Crow’s Landing near Patterson. Again touting the benefits for locals, she said, “We’re going to be all over your front lawns and streets (shooting films). Our goal is to be involved in the community … .” Funny, those are almost the same words she was using for Dixon’s consumption.
So, her business resume doesn’t include any successes over the last 15 years.
Carpenter has claimed that she can’t reveal the name of the major southern California studio she represents until all the preliminaries are in place (permits, re-zoning, and so on). She has also said that her group includes 33 representatives from the film industry. So – is it just one company that wants to locate in northern California or is it to be a studio catering to many different film production companies? If it’s just one studio, I can’t think of any reason why she would need to conceal it.
Now, rather than dwell entirely on Carpenter’s negatives, I’ll say that sure, there’s a possibility she’s for real and Dixon could have its film studio. It’s not out of the question. Just the other day in the Wall Street Journal was an article about a $30 million film studio being built on a former military base in Devon, Mass. The head of the studio will be a former stunt man. It will be a facility for hire, with four sound stages, along with editing and set construction facilities. However, earlier in that state, a $550 million film studio project stalled for lack of funding. There are a couple successful film studios elsewhere, including one in North Carolina where Hunger Games was filmed and another in New Mexico.
I think there are other skeptics in Dixon (especially within city government) but they don’t want to be remembered as the ones who scuttled Dixon’s bright, shining future. They will put on a positive face and give Carpenter and Morning View LLC a chance. Perhaps some remember the time that the city of Dixon discouraged the Salvation Army from building a major complex on the old Milk Farm restaurant site, and Suisun City got it instead.
So, the first major film test will be to see if Morning View LLC has the wherewithal to buy 400 acres of land (a tract the size of 400 football fields) from seven owners south of ‘A’ Street and between Pitt School Road and the freeway. If that’s successful, I wish them all the luck in the world in proceeding with the project.
I don’t want the city of Dixon to contribute anything to the project other than staff time. It would be a mistake for the city to guarantee bonds or co-sign loans for the project, especially considering the amount of money involved. As Carpenter herself has said, “We have real lenders that have real money.”
If the project goes forward, I can’t foresee any public opposition to the project (such as happened with Dixon Downs).