New movie spotlights Groveland

By Alex MacLean, The Union Democrat August 12, 2013 11:30 am

A film crew works in Groveland. Maggie Beck / Union Democrat, Copyright 2013.
Hollywood actors and film crews were in Groveland over the weekend shooting a movie that will feature the Tuolumne County town and some of its businesses in several key scenes. 

Saturday marked the final day of filming for the cast and crew of “The Road Within,” which isn’t due for release until sometime next year. The 25-day shoot took the team from Los Angeles to locations along the coast and Yosemite National Park before culminating in Groveland, where they arrived after dark on Friday. 

“All of the crew has been really nice and I think it will be good publicity for the town,” said Jane Silveira, who works as a waitress at the Iron Door Saloon, which was featured as the backdrop of some scenes shot Saturday morning. 

First-time filmmaker Gren Wells wrote and directed the indie drama, which is a remake of the German film “Vincent will Meer.” Wells previously wrote 2011’s “A Little Bit of Heaven” starring Kate Hudson. 

Wells’ directorial debut stars Robert Sheehan, best known for his role on the British TV series “Misfits,” Zoe Kravitz, daughter of actress Lisa Bonet and musician Lenny Kravitz, and Dev Patel, star of the 2008 Academy Award-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire.” All three were on the set in Groveland. 

Sheehan plays a young man suffering from Tourette syndrome who is sent to a residential clinic for treatment following the cancer death of his mother. He escapes with two fellow patients, played by Kravitz and Patel, and the three embark on a road trip to take his mother’s ashes to the coast, which leads them through Yosemite and Groveland.

 “It’s sort of like ‘(One Flew Over the) Cuckoo’s Nest’ meets ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’ ” said producer Michael Helfant, of Troika Pictures, who has produced several Hollywood films including “The Call,” starring Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry, which was released earlier this year. 

During pre-production for “The Road Within,” the film’s location manager, Jason Madison, researched small towns in Southern and Northern California before finding Groveland.

“We were looking for a charming small town outside of Yosemite, so once we did some research and found Groveland it was a no-brainer,” Madison said, adding that the town and business names will likely remain unchanged in the film. 

Willow Polson, events and marketing manager for the Groveland Hotel, was contacted by Madison in early June and provided photos of the hotel and surrounding locations. Pre-production crews scouted the area on June 29 and worked with Tuolumne County Film Commission Executive Director Jerry Day to secure the required filming permits with the county.

The 38-person film crew stayed Friday night at the Groveland Hotel, which is also where one of the characters in the film stays, Polson said. Several more scenes were shot inside the historic hotel throughout Saturday evening. 

Many crew members on the set were wearing Iron Door Saloon T-shirts that have “Where the Hell is Groveland?” emblazoned on the front, which they all purchased shortly after arriving in town. 

“The crew has been buying food and merchandise from local businesses, so it’s just good for the local economy,” said Polson, who was featured as an extra in a scene shot outside the Firefall Coffee Roasting Company. 

“And anything we can do to promote Groveland is great because people might not be aware that we’re up here,” she added. 

Madison said the crew came into town with “half a game plan” but were able to get the shots they needed with help from locals who accommodated them. 

One helpful Grovelandite was Tom Bickmore, who works part-time as a parking lot attendant for the Iron Door Saloon and General Store. He showed some of the crew around town and introduced them to business owners. 

“Part of it is that I’m a social butterfly, so I know what’s going on,” he said. 

Bickmore also hopes Groveland’s guest-starring role will attract more tourists once the film is released. 

“I think this is the gateway to Yosemite,” he said. “It’s always been a small, quaint little town.”

According to the film’s producer, the movie was the first major feature to be shot in Yosemite in a number of years. Polson said it was the biggest production to come to Groveland in recent memory.

Tuolumne County has a rich film history, with about 200 movies including “High Noon,” “Back to the Future III” and “Unforgiven” having been shot in the county.

The film commission’s longtime director, Day, recently announced he will be resigning at the end of the year, with the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau planning to take over the commission’s operations.