Bollywood comes to Mooney Grove for shoot
More film productions are choosing county as a location

By: Juan Villa Thursday, February 27, 2014

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Tulare County has seen a steady rise in filming the last three years. It’s also seen a change in the kinds of things being filmed here.

“We used to get very few features, it was mostly commercials,” said Eric Coyne, Tulare County film commissioner and tourism manager. “Reality TV was big last year. We had a whole series filmed in Tulare County.”

The series was “Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout?” which was shown on the National Geographic Channel last year.

On Monday, Mooney Grove Park in Visalia became the latest county landmark to star in a film. And not just any film — it’s believed to be the first large-scale Bollywood production shot in Tulare County.

The production of “Mera Wattan,” which translates to “My Country,” is being led by Indian-born British actor, writer, director and producer Kavi Raz.

It’s a film about truck drivers that he said begs to ask the question, “Where do we belong? Where is our country?”

A young couple who forms a love interest in the film shared their feelings for each other on a bridge at the Mooney Grove Park. It’s the first time they physically come together and embraced.

Parts of the film were also shot in Traver and in Fresno County. About 40 percent of the film is being shot in the Tulare County.

Monday’s filming was also captured by an Indian film crew shooting a behind-the-scenes program and by four students from a Golden West High School film production class.

“Since it’s about truck drivers, I have a lot of friends in the trucking business here. I was able to will upon their generosity and get help from them,” Raz said. “…I’ve always had this sort of love affair with Highway 99. I lived in Northern California for a long time, in Yuba City right along 99. I’ve known 99 and it’s been part of my life.”

Raz has another connection to the San Joaquin Valley. He attended Fresno State for a semester before transferring to San Jose State.

The film is being shot in Punjabi, a language spoken in the Punjab region of Pakistan and India.

“This will be one of the biggest deals in the Punjabi language film industry,” Raz said. “It’s going to be released in about half a dozen countries around the world. India is a large market, so is the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.”

“Mera Wattan” is scheduled to be released in July or August.

Locally, Sierra Vista Cinemas 16 in Clovis will likely show the film, Raz said.

Jaswant Dev Shrestha, the film’s first assistant director and unit production manager, said the Tulare County Film Commission has been a big support and has driven him around to scout locations.

The Los Angeles-based production company is filming in the Valley until March 3.

“It’s amazing [in Tulare County] and it’s so close to Los Angeles. The best part of Tulare County is the people are welcoming. There’s no disturbances at all, which as producers is what we want,” he said. “…it’s a beautiful place and more productions should come here. I’m definitely coming back with my other projects. I’m hoping to see and explore more of this county.”

Dev Shrestha plans on filming a country music video locally. The lack of disturbances and issues while filming has made it easy to work, he said.

Raz agreed.

“It’s been a lot of fun. Everyone is so generous and helpful,” he said. “I recently shot a feature in Canada, another in Los Angeles and also in Las Vegas, we were just talking about how this has been the least stressful. It’s been fun here.”

Getting more projects to film in Tulare County is what the Tulare County Film Commission strives for. To help, Coyne ran for and won a seat on the board of directors for the Film Liaisons in California Statewide.

As a board member in FLICS, he’s traveling to film events and meeting with the state film commissioner more often, which brings added exposure to Tulare County.

In this business it’s all about relationships and who you know, he said. The TCFC also advertises in industry publications and guides.

“We’re not in the entertainment business, that’s not why the county is doing this,” Coyne said. “It’s not a sense of vanity. We’re doing this because it’s economic development.”

A seven-hour music video shoot on Super Bowl Sunday in Balch Park near Springville put about $20,000 into the community through lodging, dining and equipment rentals, he said.

When filming takes place in the county, it profits in three ways: direct spending, film tourism and it enhances the image of the county as a great place to live and work.

Fans of the films “Forrest Gump” and “Son in Law” are still coming to Tulare County to see where portions of those movies were filmed.

When “Mera Wattan” producers asked if they could film a scene in the Tulare County Museum of Farm Labor and Agriculture at Mooney Grove Park, Coyne was quick to offer up a suggestion.

Sure, as long as you show the sign, he joked.

“The value of production in India for their film industry is almost equal to the United States’ production volume. It’s a huge market for entertainment,” Coyne said. “To be able to help attract an international film that is taking place in the states and that is for the domestic market and the international market is a win-win for us.”

On Friday, Coyne received a location request for the “Fast and Furious 7” movie, which recently resumed filming. Producers are also scouting locations in Fresno County. Production had stopped in the wake of “Fast and Furious” actor Paul Walker’s death.

The request came from the state’s film commissioner.

“That’s a good example of how this membership with FLICS works,” Coyne said. “I knew what might be appropriate for them here, but I also know that if they’re not going to film here, we want them to film in California or nearby. We want them to spend close to here and not take those production dollars out of state.”

Tulare County was also one of the final locations for filming of “The Lone Ranger,” but it wasn’t included when, a week before shooting, changes were made. Two days of filming “The Lone Ranger” represented $15 million worth of spending within the state of California, Coyne said.

Reality TV location scouts are back in Tulare County this week.

They’re looking for a remote ranch with a forested area where people can set up, build a camp and survive off the land for nine months. They would also want a water feature nearby.

“They’re going to be on location for nine months, that’s a lot of economic activity,” Coyne said. “I have three locations I’m going to show them but I’m always looking for new locations.”