It’s all about the location

By From page B2 | July 26, 2013

Patrick Ranahan image

PATRICK RANAHAN can find the perfect location for films, television or stills. Courtesy photo

For location scout Patrick Ranahan, going the extra mile is a metaphor for life. He flies, drives and hikes to virtually every zip code on earth, often lives in squalid motels and mosquito netting, climbs canyons, calculates deserts, negotiates snow banks and descends mine shafts.

Thirty-six years of mental mapping and cross referencing thousands of pristine locales from Omaha to the Outback is his stock-in-trade.

So when this globe-trotter got the Dr Pepper Ten location assignment, he knew where to look.

California’s super topography is his wheelhouse. Finding the perfect location for “The Manliest Low-Calorie Soda in the History of Mankind” looked like a piece of cake.

But Director Stacy Wall needed a special outdoorsy feel to the commercial, a kind of personal wilderness that Grizzly Adams or the Brawny Paper Towel guy would call home. So finding a tranquil but accessible lake, a rushing but navigable river, big trees (but not a dark forest) all at a reasonable elevation took him straight to Northern California.

Big Sur was too vast, Humboldt County too remote. Mt. Lassen, Shasta, Red Bluff and Redding, although perfect for a Big Foot campaign, weren’t right for the Pepper project.

The Russian River moved too fast and most of the area’s lakes lacked intimacy — after all, we’re talking about the backyard of a bearded Pepper-craving denizen, (a cross between Paul Bunyan and Jeremiah Johnson) who actually lives in the locale with helpmates bear and hawk.

A tip from an antique store owner sent Ranahan toward a secluded lake near the Ice Road turnoff, 25 miles east of Placerville on Highway 50. What he found was ideal, including a backdrop of the snowcapped Sierra.

Fortune continued to smile as Ranahan stumbled upon a hidden section of the American River tumbling down the mountainside between banks of snow and sun.

After 2,800 miles of scouting, he finally had his locations. But it turned out to be private property and the widow who owned it, suspecting a scheme, hung up and refused to talk.

El Dorado County Film Commissioner Kathleen Dodge helped out, researching and locating other family members. Ranahan invited them to hear the full proposal. Benefits were patiently explained, and in early 2013, the widow and her family agreed to the project.

The shoot took 70 workers over three days, employing four semis full of equipment, props and a 40-foot camera crane. Shooting in 16 mm film (the pre-digital ’70s and ’80s look was important to recreate) the project wrapped without a flaw, save the flatlander crew members who discovered walking on water isn’t for everyone.

The work has paid off with the Dr. Pepper Ten commercial going viral on the Internet — there have been nearly a million views and downloads (

Ranahan has had no time to bask in glory, as new scouting assignments are already piling up. His mental map will, of course, guide him efficiently but nothing will happen overnight.

It always takes a little longer to go the extra mile.

Ranahan is nominated for a California On-Locatin Award.

Peter Tyner

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