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Bruce Willis aids Sonoma Valley Festival

It seems that luck, skill, timing and talent go hand-in-hand when making a good movie or a commercial, and the Sonoma Valley Film Festival had all that going for it this past weekend when Hollywood mega-actor Bruce Willis showed up to lend his talent.

Willis is starring in a commercial promoting the 2004 Sonoma Valley Film Festival, known as Cinema Epicuria. The 60-second trailer, titled "Cinema Epicuria or Bust," is being co-produced by Brenda Lhormer and Kevin McNeely, both Sonoma Valley residents.

The luck started when Willis not only was available for the weekend shoot but also was willing to do it free of charge, according to festival consulting producer Lhormer. Willis flew into Napa in his personal jet Saturday, fresh from Albuquerque, N.M., where he and his band had performed.

When he first arrived at the remote filming location, Willis got out of the car and immediately spotted a little pile of rocks. He said out loud, but to no one in particular, "I gotta' kick a rock."

With the tip of his fancy, light green cowboy boot he lobbed a rock off the pile and onto the ground. When asked later about that action he said - with that famous quirky smile - "It was a good-luck thing. I've always been a kind of rock-kicking guy."

McNeely happens to be best friends with Willis, who was best man at McNeely's wedding several years ago. Without a lot of coaxing, McNeely managed to get Willis to get involved with the project.

"All the talent and crew are volunteers in exchange for thanks, love and kisses, and a free dinner at the Red Grape," said Lhormer. "We really put together a professional crew to pull this feat off."

The volunteers included seven cast members and 27 professional moviemakers - some local, some from San Francisco, the East Bay and beyond.

The director and editor of the spot is 2002 Emmy-award winner Eric Fournier, who directed "Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story."

To help out, animated film director John Lasseter of "Toy Story" fame donated "Betsy," his 34-foot RV, and Lasseter's personal assistant and driver, Ryan Jewell, so the cast and crew would have a rolling office for the two-day shoot.

The project was couched in secrecy. The location of the set - in the midst of Bartolucci Vineyards on a lonely, remote road in the Carneros District, just over the Napa County line - was announced at the last minute.

Willis' participation was revealed only after everyone arrived on scene. Lhormer explained that Willis did not want a bevy of press people hounding him; he preferred to keep a low profile.

The timing of the shoot was in between raindrops all day Saturday from 7 a.m. until late afternoon when the light ran out, with the plan being to come back on Sunday to complete the filming.

Once again, luck was with the cast and crew. Only a few drops sprinkled over the maze of wires and cords, cameras and lights and the seven cast members.

The story of the commercial, explained Lhormer, is about three people traveling to Sonoma to attend the film festival when they come upon a "drop-dead gorgeous blonde" (played by local resident Lisa Ledson) hitchhiking next to a broken-down car. When the three stop to pick her up she calls to her two male, hunk friends hiding in the nearby bushes (to assure a car would stop), and all climb into the Porsche Cayenne to continue merrily on their way.

Further down the road stands a lone male hitchhiker, who they pass by. When he turns around to watch the car speed down the road, the audience sees it's Bruce Willis.

At this point, said Lhormer, a voice is heard saying something like, "Don't pass up your opportunity to see the seventh annual Sonoma Valley Film Festival..."

Comcast Cable TV is one of this year's sponsors of the festival, and a 30-second version of the spot will be broadcast in March on cable channels such as Bravo and A & E, said Marc Lhormer, festival executive director.

"The 60-second version will be screened in 75 to 100 selected Bay Area movie theaters and, hopefully, on KRON TV Channel 4," added Marc Lhormer.

Another bit of luck, said Brenda Lhormer, was the speed at which the Napa County Roads Department issued the necessary filming permits.

"It came through a lot faster than it normally takes... and we even got lunch donated by the Sonoma Cheese Factory," she said.

As for rounding up his friend Willis to star in the part, commercial co-producer McNeely downplayed his role.

"Bruce is obviously interested in film and because of that he wanted to help us out ... and he likes to be in Sonoma."

McNeely has been involved with the festival since its inception seven years ago and said he loves it. "This is a chance to see films here in the Valley people normally wouldn't be able to see."

He said when the Lhormers became involved several years ago, the festival took a huge step forward.

"It's a young's growing and it's embraced by the community, that's evidenced by the people here today," McNeely added. "Everyone here has worked on a lot of films and they're all donating their efforts."

As for Willis, he appeared to enjoy himself from the moment he alighted on the set and throughout the many takes of the hitchhiking sequence. He was allowed to ad-lib if he wanted to.

In between takes Willis joked with McNeely, shook hands with crew members and had his picture taken with many of them. When asked about his participation in the commercial, he simply said, "I'm glad to do it. It's an art form."

Cinema Epicuria will be held from April 1 to 4 and festival passes are on sale now with discounts available if purchased before Dec. 15. For tickets or more information, contact the festival hotline at 933-2600 or visit the Web site at

By Sandi Hansen, Index-Tribune Staff Writer

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