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TURLOCK JOURNAL - Red Carpet Night
BY ALEX CANTATORE - Staff reporter

Turlock has long been known as 'The City of God,' but as a city of glitz, glamour, and red carpet premieres?

"I don't know the last time a film premiered in Turlock," laughed Hollywood writer, producer, and director Scott Roberts.

While he may not be certain of the last time Turlock saw a movie premiere, Roberts is well aware of the date of one upcoming premiere; on April 18, in the Turlock Community Auditorium, the world will be exposed to his new documentary, "Gas Hole," for the first time. But the road getting to this point certainly hasn't been easy for this Turlock High School graduate.

"Acting is something I always wanted to do," said Roberts, who still maintains a residence in Turlock. "So after high school I moved to San Francisco and did a lot of theatre and took a lot of classes. I eventually moved to Los Angeles where I started as an assistant at a talent agency."

Jeremy Wagener, the co-producer, co-director, and co-writer of "Gas Hole," picks up the story from there, way back in the year 1998.

"We were casting the movie 'Chicks, Man,' and we had seen a thousand different actors," said Wagener, who wrote, directed, and produced the film. "We were having a difficult time casting the character Rod, who was basically just supposed to be a big funny bald guy. That's all we needed, but we couldn't find the actor to play that character.

"Our assistant producer Brent Emory said, 'Oh, well, I'll just call my friend Scott.' We met Scott and he was perfect. It turned out I actually lived right down the street from him. The whole thing was very serendipitous."

Through their work together on "Chicks, Man," the two became fast friends and began working together when they could.

Fast-forward seven years to 2005. Roberts is reading through a newspaper and a letter to the editor catches his eye.

The letter's subject: a revolutionary engine supposedly capable of more than 100 miles to the gallon. Yet this engine was purportedly invented more than 60 years ago, way back in the 1940s.

"I cut out the letter and I said, 'What happened to this? It'd sure be useful today,'" Roberts recalled.

Roberts instantly knew that the story would make a good movie, but he just didn't know in what way.

"I called Jeremy and said, 'I need your help.'"

The two worked together for two and a half years, researching, traveling, interviewing, and filming what would become "Gas Hole." When they started the project, gas was just approaching $3 per gallon in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

"When we started we just thought it was going to be about the story of this carburetor," said Wagener. "But every time we would interview someone they would say, 'Have you talked to so and so?' or, 'Oh you should go to this biodiesel place.' It really just exploded. The only reason we're finished now is that we had to stop sometime or we'd never be finished."

The response to rough cuts of the movie has been outstanding. Roberts is glad that "Gas Hole" has been eliciting discussion on more than just its - admittedly amusing - title.

"The name comes from my daughter," Roberts said. "She's interviewed in the movie. We asked a lot of kids, 'Where does gas come from?' She said, 'Well you take the thing off and you put the thing in the Gas Hole.' We knew we had a title right then."

As feeding our car's "Gas Hole" has become more and more expensive, Wagener and Roberts seem to be the only non-oil executives in the country whose smiles have widened.

"I don't know if I'd call it foresight or luck, but as gas prices kept going up we knew it would make the movie more timely," said Roberts.

After the April 18 Turlock premiere of "Gas Hole," the film will go on tour around the United States. More than 50 cities will screen the movie in advance of a "Big 10" city limited national release.

After its trip around the states, "Gas Hole" will travel abroad, visiting European cities and even New Zealand.

And how on earth, with a movie this big, did Roberts convince his co-producer, an Albuquerque native, to premiere the film in Turlock?

"Well," Wagener said, "It was Scott's idea to begin with and you know it's been awfully hard on his family for him to come down to LA once a week for the past few years. It works out, I think. They've earned it."

When you speak with him, it's obvious that Roberts is positively glowing over the opportunity to bring Hollywood to Turlock. Famous writers, producers, and actors are expected to be present at the red carpet event, perhaps seeing their first glimpse of Turlock as well as "Gas Hole."

The event won't just benefit the Hollywood-types either. The majority of proceeds from ticket sales for "Gas Hole" and the VIP, red carpet after-party will go to fund Turlock youth sports.

"It's going into a fund with the Police Athletic League, and we're going to sit with them and see where to put it," Roberts said. "The money is going to be used for the kids who can't afford to do a lot of the programs."

Both Roberts and Wagener are hoping that a lot of Turlockers buy a $12 ticket to the premiere, to be held at the Turlock Community Auditorium, and stay for the question and answer session with the filmmakers afterwards. Through the arduous production of the film, both feel like they've learned a bit about the oil crisis facing the world.

"I'm actually looking to buy an old used diesel now," Wagener said, "because what we found out that you can run any diesel on biodiesel, and we have some stations here in LA that are selling it now. We've already bought a scooter for easy errands that don't need the big car."

For those looking to hobnob with the stars at the after-party, a $60 ticket secures access to gift bags, a martini bar, and the extravagant hors d'oeuevres that await at the Tower Health & Wellness Center. Regardless of whether Turlockers come for the movie or for the stars, however, Roberts is looking forward to sharing his work with his hometown.

"When I was in high school, I used to walk out on the stage of the community auditorium. This was before the restoration, so it was just broken desks and chalkboards, but I used to stand at the edge of the stage and look down and think it was just so beautiful. I just used to love to stand in there, and now it's coming full circle."

Tickets for the premiere of "Gas Hole" are available at the Tower Health & Wellness Center, 1801 Colorado Avenue, 216-3407 and the Turlock Recreation Division, 301 Starr Ave., 668-5594.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.