Hollywood North or River City, Iowa?

A clear-eyed look at Carissa Carpenter's business record

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).   




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Gary Erwin August 16, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Good article Bil. I agree with your observations and writings. I have done much research on the subject and have come to the conclusion that if the studio is built it will be a great asset to the community. I also have read countless articles about the other proposed ventures and their failures. I feel that the city should give Morning View a fair shake and at the same time not waste much money on the venture until they make the first big move of putting the money on the counter top to purchase the land. It is also important to note that a studio without an anchor tenant is bound to fail outside of the L.A. area. If a consortia of producers are going to put money up for the studio this might help but an anchor tenant should be signed. We are in wait and see mode…what will Professor Harold Hill do next?
Barbara B August 17, 2012 at 04:31 AM
Regardless of the real or fantastic business possibilities, I do sincerely wish we had some regulation to control the conversion of prime ag land into this kind of development. I could probably tolerate infill development on some ag parcels clustered with similar infrastructure development--like up near Walmart. Dixon might want large scale business developmen now, but may regret selling off its food-production assets in a couple of decades when there are a billion more mouths to feed on Planet Earth.
Gary Erwin August 17, 2012 at 04:53 AM
Barbara, go to planning commission meetings and voice your opinion. I feel the same way as you on this subject. As I understand it once the land has been incorporated into the City and rezoned its a done deal...given time and a developer....
Ron Petersen August 17, 2012 at 05:38 AM
This is not the first time this kind of thing has came through Sacramento. Once it was McClellan when actually had buildings which in theory could been retro fitted now its Dixon which would be a ground up scenario. It would be great if it happened but you HAVE to get a few studios involved. Build it and they will come (which is even more on the nose given its Dixon is surrounded by farmland) is something that will never happen. The only real advantange to Dixon is I imagine the land is cheap and its half way to the bay area where a lot of FX houses are. But without studios ready to pound the door down they will be spinning their wheels. On any of this to take it seriously you have to dismiss all the hype and get to the meat and potatoes of it. Lets see a bank statement or a list of investors with signed agreements to put in X amount of cash, What studios are lined up to consider using the facilities. What fall back would be used for during dry spells. Are they only only approaching big studios and big projects if so its almost certain that its an ego driven project afloat on BS and hot air. If they are approaching indie film makers and B movies to shoot then they can be taken a little more seriously. With this kind of project it doesn't hurt to have an open mind but be sure to completely disregard all hype. My limited experience has been there a lot of pipe dreams driven by ego and hot air with these kinds of things and insist on a serving of meat and potatoes first
Barbara B August 17, 2012 at 06:18 AM
I need to do that, thanks for your advice. For others who may be reading this, here's the Planning Commission website: http://www.ci.dixon.ca.us/index.aspx?nid=264. Meetings are 7 p.m., third Tuesday of every month.
Dan Mattingly August 21, 2012 at 11:30 PM
I couldn't agree more with Ron, Barbara and Gary. This may just be another Milk Farm dudd and I am betting on the dudd.
Gary Erwin August 21, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Dan, I think we need to let this project breath and grow. Let's see what develops and if it takes we all win. If it does not progress well then, back to work doing what we do.
Bil Paul August 22, 2012 at 03:56 AM
Will someone fill me in on the Milk Farm "dud"? Is this where the Salvation Army/Davis entrepreneur were going to build a large complex there? I wasn't living here at the time.
Dan Mattingly August 22, 2012 at 04:05 PM
I believe it was the entrepeneur who wanted to build flying cars on the old site; and a restaurant, etc. There was some discussion about growth jumping the freeway and the expense of the city extending sewer lines across the freeway and annexation although this land is within the city's sphere of influence, I believe. This was another big development plan that did not get much traction and as we can see the cow is still up there in the sky,
Gary Erwin August 25, 2012 at 07:38 PM
Bil and Dan, An estimate of costs was given to Moller Int. (Skycar inventor) for extension of power, sewer, and water under the freeway to the old Milk Farm site. Later the cost went up to the extent that it was not affordable for the inventor, aviator. In an effort to share costs they tried to co tenant the property with the Salvation Army. During the same period the economy started loosing traction and the deal fell apart. The above are based on my memories and the facts might be a bit different. http://www.weirdomatic.com/moller-skycar.html I believe that we should keep the city east of Highway 80 or if we do incorporate land West of 80 it should be zoned Ag.
Ron Petersen November 03, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Carriss Carpenters name does not show up on imdb.com and the video of that malibu location of morning view studios was clearly shot by an amateur.
Bil Paul November 03, 2012 at 06:40 PM
There's a Morning View films outfit in San Francisco making films/videos for the gay audience. I'm not saying the two companies are connected but in light of the San Francisco company, "Morning View" might've been a poor choice of words for the Dixon venture! (For more info on Morning View-San Francisco, see rockhavenmovie.com.)
Gary Erwin November 04, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Vinnie and Ron, you should read the more recent articles. You are commenting on stale blog/info. Bil, I'm surprised by your comment. This is the second time that you have written this. You know it is not so....so why persist? It is common practice in Business to open an LLC under a pseudo name to cover a project so that it can stay undercover until they are ready to see the light of day. It is no different than someone commenting here without revealing their full or correct name?
ERiN C DENNY January 29, 2013 at 07:40 PM
we wanted this in Woodland and even tried to get them to come and concider us. There are so many jobs,not only for the building of sound stages etc, but also futre jobs. this is a golden opertunity ,and there is plenty of farming land everywhere in this valley .WE NEED JOBS ,not more safflower or tomatos.
The Great Pragmatist August 10, 2013 at 12:44 PM
Been a year since this spot on article was published. It deserves our praise. Too bad that our City Manager embarrassed our City by believing Carissa's lies.


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