Turlock is rolling out the red carpet for its Hollywood debut.
Corbin Bernsen and Lacey Chabert are returning to the Central Valley for the world première of their new film, “Christian Mingle,” which was shot largely in Turlock over the winter. They will be among the film’s cast members attending the event Friday evening at Regal Turlock Stadium 14.
“We want to thank everyone up there, that whole area, for being a part of it,” said director Bernsen, who also wrote and acts in the film. “I think everyone will be thrilled. We really liked shooting in Turlock. We can’t wait for people to see it in the area.”
The romantic comedy features “Mean Girls” and “Party of Five” alumna Chabert as a successful single career woman who can’t seem to find Mr. Right. She decides one night to post her profile on the real-life dating site ChristianMingle.com, despite not being devout.
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Film crews were in Turlock in early December shooting in locations downtown and throughout the city. Former “L.A. Law” and “Psych” star Bernsen picked Turlock to stand in for a big-city neighborhood because of its charming downtown.
“In studios, you have these back lots. They’re almost fairy-tale, hyper-real sets. I thought originally I might shoot this thing on a back lot. Then I went to Turlock,” he said. “Turlock has that fairy-tale quality with its Main Street. Not only do you get the back-lot feel, but the added thing, it was real, it was weathered. It was true.”
The production was in town for about two weeks filming inside local businesses including 10 EAST Kitchen & Tap House, Lightly Used Books, Lisa’s Cookie Jar, Sushi Cuisine, Main Street Footers and Ritzy Ragz & Thingz. The film also used the interiors of area homes and businesses as stand-ins for the apartment and office of Chabert’s character, Gwyneth.
“The L.A. Complex” actor Jonathan Patrick Moore co-stars as the boyfriend Gwyneth meets through Christian Mingle. The movie also features “Falcon Crest” veteran Morgan Fairchild, “Seinfeld” regular John O’Hurley and “Glee” actor Stephen Tobolowsky.
In addition, more than 200 area residents were selected as background extras and for small roles from an open casting call Bernsen held in November. More than 1,200 people showed up for the auditions, signaling the area’s interest and excitement for the project.
“The response was sixfold what we’ve had in other places. It was insane,” Bernsen said. “We do this very purposely because we enjoy coming into a community and making a film there and bringing the community into the process. That has become our thing. To make movies for communities in communities.”
But the project’s biggest booster has been Turlock businessman Matt Swanson, who serves as its executive producer. Swanson is the president of Pet Extreme and his family’s Associated Feed and Supply Co., and a partner in the Turlock recording and video studio The Creation Lab. Executive producers typically secure the financial backing for film projects. Bernsen said “Christian Mingle” was produced on a $650,000 budget.
“Matt has been wonderful and an incredible resource. He had one caveat before we started: He wanted to talk with me and understand my worldview and see the person I was,” Bernsen said. “From that point on, he entrusted me with his resources to make the movie up there. He’s a great man of firm values and I couldn’t ask for someone better to the second-highest man on this film. The first, of course, is God.”
Swanson’s The Creation Lab partner Michael Everett serves as a producer on the film. Their studio helped make some TV commercials, including one featuring Swanson, that play in the background during some of the scenes in Gwyneth’s apartment.
“Working with Corbin was great. He is such a seasoned professional that has been in the business a long time and knows every aspect of production,” Everett said. “He loved his experience here in Turlock and wants to film another film here soon. It would be an honor to work with him again.”
“Christian Mingle” is the fifth release from Bernsen’s faith-based production company, Home Theater Films. The actor said he didn’t originally set out to make Christian movies. But after his father’s death six years ago, he began to think about the bigger picture, and he wrote a movie about exploring faith, called “Rust.”
“I guess now five films into me being a Christian filmmaker, I see faith as a critical part of Main Street,” he said. “I see religion and some of the bad stuff done in the name of faith around the world, and how important it is to bring the element of faith back into people’s lives. I’m not going to tell you what church you have to be in or anything. But know at the center of it is what I call God. The thing we explore in ‘Christian Mingle’ is we all have our own paths. If we just open our hearts and take away our cynicism for five minutes, you don’t even have to call it God, but we all experience the same thing.”
And while the movie features and is named after the dating site Christian Mingle, the online service did not provide any money to the production. Bernsen said the relationship instead is one of cross promotion: The dating site will help publicize the film.
“Christian Mingle” will open Friday in close to 20 cities across the country, including at Turlock’s Regal, Modesto’s Brenden and Riverbank’s Galaxy theaters. The movie also will play in cineplexes in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Denver, Houston, Phoenix and Nashville, among others.
Even before its première, Bernsen said he is excited about bringing another movie project to Turlock and the surrounding area. He said he already has a completed script for a film about a group of kids that goes on a mission trip to Mexico and is held for ransom. He hopes to partner with Swanson again on the production and begin filming in the spring or early summer.
“I hope to work with Matt again on it. I wrote it to be there. Before I start bombarding him and the community with more, we’ll see how ‘Christian Mingle’ does,” Bernsen said. “But I loved working up there and probably will come up to make this film (in the Turlock area) no matter what. It’s the perfect filming environment. You get small-town feel and it’s not too far from L.A.”