TAHOMA, Calif. - Nestled behind the tall pines on the east side of Highway 89 north of Tahoma, the line between fact and fiction blurs on the set where directors Tom Williams and Tom Dolby filmed the final scenes of their first feature-length movie, "Last Weekend," on Wednesday.
The movie and the production process have some unique Tahoe twists, not least of which is the Dolby estate where most of the film takes place. The house appeared in the 1951 movie "A Place in the Sun," starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. That estate, plus various appearances by basin wildlife - a bear prowled across the beach one day and a snake slithered through the set another - and a League to Save Lake Tahoe party featured in the flick adds to the unique Tahoe feel of "Last Weekend."
The independent film stars Patricia Clarkson (The Green Mile, Shutter Island) and Zachary Booth (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Taking Woodstock) and is set over a Labor Day Weekend holiday at the house. Clarkson plays Celia Green, a mother from San Francisco who plans a leisurely vacation at the lake for her husband, her two sons and their friends and partners.
"It's a dark comedy of manners. It's a family from San Francisco. They've come up to Tahoe to spend the weekend at their family house and their sons have brought along a boyfriend, a girlfriend and other friends. And they expect that it will be a wonderful, idyllic weekend. In fact, chaos ensues," Dolby said.
One of the guests nearly dies from an allergic reaction, and the caretaker, Hector, gets electrocuted one night and taken to the hospital. That hospital might seem familiar to some South Shore residents - Barton Memorial Hospital opened its doors to the crew to film the scene.
Ray O'Brien, the estate's real caretaker, said one of the neighbors was indeed electrocuted in the past, the event that inspired the accident in the film. O'Brien, who just retired as a captain with the North Tahoe Fire Protection District, said he's worked on the estate for 25 years and that he's grown up with the family.
The parallels between fact and fiction continue. Dolby spent weekends on the same estate that the fictional Green family owns and vacations at. Dolby said the family purchased the house, whose value O'Brien estimates between $15 million to $18 million, in 1979.
"It has been preserved beautifully by my parents and others. We were hoping to give a second life to the house in terms of making our film. It had one life on screen back in the 1950s, now we hope we're giving it another one," Dolby said.
"We'd been coming up here since my parents bought the house, so I've always loved Tahoe and appreciated its natural beauty. I wanted to make a film that showed that," he said.
Not only does the film show off aspects of Tahoe, it also brings in some important revenue to the basin, said Kathleen Dodge, executive director of the El Dorado Lake Tahoe Film and Media Office. Local artists and companies were able to take advantage of product placement in the movie, and according to Dodge, the movie business employs many Tahoe residents.
"Tahoe is a destination. It's a location that cannot be matched. The film office has over 200 percent return on investments," Dodge said. "But we look beyond the direct money. We look at how many people the movie can employ, and it creates opportunities for young filmmakers they might not otherwise have."
Tahoe has seen its fair share of movies. From "Smoking Aces" in 2007 to "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" in 1984, the lake has served as the backdrop for movies both big and small. With a less-than $2 million budget, Dolby said the crew is aiming to first get "Last Weekend" in Sundance Film Festival, and then aim for a theater showing.
Williams, the film's other director, said they wanted the film to explore some of the real eccentricities and problems families deal with on a regular basis.
"We wanted it to be realistic. And I think it's also something true that you don't see the milestones in your life coming. What adds up to your decision to do something isn't necessarily a monumental event," Williams said.