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Sonoma County a main character in Peter Fonda film 'You Can't Say No'

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In the midst of Sonoma County’s flourishing filmmaking industry, a new independent film being shot in the area will feature the county’s iconic beauty as a critical storytelling component.

From an expansive Wine Country estate to a northeast Santa Rosa home, the film, “You Can’t Say No,” joins a long list of productions taking advantage of Sonoma County’s cinematic potential.

Earlier this summer, Sebastopol’s Analy High School and locations around Petaluma were used to film part of “13 Reasons Why,” a Netflix series directed by Tom McCarthy — who directed the Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight” — and co-produced by pop star Selena Gomez.

Local resident Hus Miller, a 41-year old Santa Rosa High School graduate, wrote the “You Can’t Say No” script and stars in the film. But it’s really a family affair.

Part of the film is being shot this week inside a Santa Rosa home on East Foothill Drive that belongs to Miller’s mother-in-law. A 7,400-square-foot vacation rental home on Plum Ranch Road managed by Miller’s wife, Melanie, has been another shooting location, and Wohler Bridge will be, too. And the Millers’ two sons are both included in the film.

While the county has been used as a backdrop for several iconic films in the past, including Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1964 thriller “The Birds” and Wes Craven’s 1996 slasher film “Scream,” recent figures indicate filmmakers have taken even more of an interest in Wine Country.

A report earlier this year from the Sonoma County Film Office showed that local filming generated $4 million in local economic activity in 2015, up 110 percent from the year before.

Eighty-four filming permits were issued by Sonoma County and its cities, compared with 76 permits in 2014, according to the film office.

Hus Miller said “You Can’t Say No” was inspired in part by his own life, but stressed it wasn’t strictly autobiographical.

The film tells the story of a fictional husband and wife, Hank and Alex Murphy, whose marriage deteriorates and is headed for divorce.

Hank embarks on a road trip to see his father ­— played by Peter Fonda — and at a diner eventually runs into his wife, who had started her own trip. The Murphys “share a beer, have a good conversation and realize there is still a lot to learn about one another,” according to the film’s synopsis on its website, youcantsaynofilm.com.

So they decide to play a game in which neither can say “no” to any request from the other. Director Paul Kramer, a longtime friend of Hus Miller’s, compared the game to a “divorce couple’s truth or dare.” Kramer said Tuesday he hopes the film will win over audiences with the universal nature of its tested-love story — while capturing the essence of Sonoma County along the way.

In addition to Fonda, the film also stars Marguerite Moreau as Alex Murphy. Moreau has appeared in films such as “Queen of the Damned” and “Wet Hot American Summer.” Sitting outside the East Foothill house during a break in filming Tuesday, Moreau agreed the county would enhance the narrative of “You Can’t Say No.”

“In essence, Hank and Alex are figuring out their family, and Sonoma is their roots. To shoot here is to root the story in home, and it brings a lot of heart and beauty to the story,” Moreau said. “It’s also like a playground, and they’re playing a game. It’s a perfect background for them to lose their inhibitions and find themselves again.”

Another notable local location to be featured in the film is Wohler Bridge, which will still be open to traffic during shooting, according to Hus Miller.

“We really want to play up the fact that this film takes place in Sonoma County,” he said.

Miller said the film is halfway through its planned 18-day shoot.

He hopes “You Can’t Say No” can be a contender at festivals such as the Sundance Film Festival and SXSW.

J.D. Morris can be reached at jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com and @thejdmorris.

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