by Scott Neuffer

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March 3, 2011
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Filmmakers take Valley to the big screen

A Gardnerville landmark has been immortalized in celluloid as the backdrop for a gritty film about two Reno brothers mixed up with the law.

On Tuesday, film crews converged on the JT Basque Bar and Dining Room to shoot exterior and interior scenes for the movie "The Motel Life," which is an adaptation of Willy Vlautin's 2007 novel by the same name.

"It should be released in theaters by the end of next year," said Ann Ruark, one of the film's producers.

Large recreational vehicles parked off Eddy Street carried the film's "talent," including actor Emile Hirsch, who starred in "Into the Wild" and "Milk," and Dakota Fanning, who played an abducted child in the Denzel Washington film, "Man on Fire," and played the daughter of Sean Penn in "I am Sam."

"This whole area is well-represented in the book," said Ruark. "This (the JT) is a piece of background that has a nice feel to it."

The scenes were supposed to take place in an Elko Basque restaurant, but the JT provided more than enough atmosphere.

"This is one of the writer's mom's favorite restaurants, and so they felt it was a really cool spot to shoot," said JT owner J.B. Lekumberry.

J.B., who owns the restaurant with sister Marie Louise, brought his wife Lisa and their kids Anna and Etienne to the shoot, along with some star-eyed friends. What is a familiar establishment in downtown Gardnerville was quickly converted into a movie set. Thick cables ran along the floor. Klieg lights, taller than a man, cast beams from otherwise darkened corners. In the center of it all stood a giant camera, which rolled and pivoted about during zoom and pan shots.

Marie Lekumberry pointed out a fog machine in the kitchen.

"We were laughing, having flashbacks of dad (Jean Lekumberry) smoking his cigars," she said. "In this scene, he (Emile Hirsch) is taking some soup to-go out of the kitchen."

In the back of the dining room lay 90s-style clothing worn by the extras, many who were seated at the tables. Director Alan Polsky, young, curly-haired, dynamic and intense, joined other producers in front of a digital monitor.

"Last look, last look," someone called out. "Rolling... Action!"

A hushed silence fell over the entire room. The monitor showed Hirsch waiting outside the kitchen. An aproned cook emerged from the swinging doors with a bag of soup, which Hirsch promptly grabbed. In a few seconds, he was out of the frame.


"It almost looks like a drug deal," Hirsch said afterwards. "Maybe there should be a receipt stapled to the bag."

"It's too fast," Polsky said.

A crew member unknowingly leaned against a thermostat on the far wall. The building's air system lurched into action with a loud hum. Fortunately J.B. was quick to help shut if off.

"Emile, give him (the cook) thanks, so you're not just running out," Polsky directed.

Within an hour, the team successfully had filmed a scene that lasted approximately 10 seconds. They took a break before prepping Dakota Fanning for the next scene.

"It's exciting," J.B. said. "I like a good movie. It's neat to see how much goes into it. All we get to see is the finished cake. But the whole baking part is pretty fun. Who knows if this will even make it into the movie?"

Hours later, in the fading blue light of dusk, the same film crew set a car on fire near Genoa for yet another scene. On Wednesday, they were still filming in parts of Minden.

"By far, this is the biggest thing I've worked on, caliber-wise," said Mark Rosol, set production assistant. "The first thing I did was read the book."

Rosol grew up in Truckee before heading out into the big, famous world of movies.

"It's cool to be home, and to be home doing a project like this," he said.

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The Record Courier Updated Mar 3, 2011 08:51PM Published Mar 3, 2011 08:00PM Copyright 2011 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.