Petaluma filmaker shifting gears
“It’s not easy to get Hollywood’s attention sometimes,” says Ali Afshar, actor and movie producer. “But with the films we’ve made here in Petaluma over the last several years, Hollywood has definitely been taking notice.”
Afshar — who grew up in Petaluma and still keeps a home here — has been sheltering in town since the statewide quarantine was ordered. But just the day before this interview he drove down to his other home in Los Angeles for short while.
After making a name for himself as a performer in such films as “Three Kings” with George Clooney, Afshar has set his sights on making small, independent movies, frequently featuring his home town. “American Wrestler: The Wizard” was a semi-autobiographical tale based on Afshar’s teenage days, wrestling for Casa Grande High School. Frequently attracting big name talent to his projects — folks like Dennis Quaid, Jon Voight, Sharon Stone and others — Afshar has demonstrated an ability to make entertaining films on a small budget, and then put them in front of audiences who appreciate the generally inspirational message of the stories.
The pandemic, it so happens, has slowed down the momentum Afshar’s been building, just as h e is ready to take a big step forward.
“Since this started, I’ve been mostly hunkering down in Petaluma, doing some things from there while we released a bunch of our films on Netflix, which happened a few weeks ago,” Afshar says, speaking from L.A. “I’ve been on the phone with Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, trying to work out the details so we can start shooting another film in Petaluma, mid-June. If the county and the state will allow it, we think we can do it safely, so we’re in a bit of a holding pattern till we find out what’s possible.”
According to Afshar, film producers like Lionsgate and Paramount, along with some other major production companies, have been developing guidelines for safely making a film under the current ongoing health crisis. Those guideline will be strictly observed when shooting begins in Petaluma, he says.
“Everyone working on the film gets tested, and they move into the hotel a few days before the shoot,” Afshar explains. “We’ve already blocked a whole floor at the Sheraton. No more than ten people will work together on set, and they will be separated into ‘pods’ that only associate directly with each other and no one else. There will be a ‘base camp pod,’ a ‘hotel pod,’ an ‘on set pod.’”
The list of safety precautions goes on. Medics on location at all times. Disposable makeup supplies. Individually pre-packaged meals instead of the previous “craft services style” buffet to feed the crew. Disposable tablecloths. Frequent temperature checks for all cast and crew. And a whole series of protocols should anyone become sick or exposed to someone who is.
“There will be some very strict rules, to really minimize the risk to everyone,” he says. “Crew sizes are being slashed by more than 50%. Luckily, the movie we want to do in June has a small cast, and the main couple in the story will be played by a real-life married couple, so they are already in each other’s ‘pod,’ and that will make things a lot easier.”
Those actors, Josh Swickard and Loryn York, are, in fact, the stars of “Roped,” the film Afshar shot in Petaluma a couple of years ago, and which is currently racking up impressive view numbers on Netflix.