Friday, October 29, 2010

A Hotel in Need of Renovation

Opened in 1927, Yuma's Hotel Del Sol was a focal point of activity until the early 1970's. It eventually closed in 1989 and except for brief use in 1993 as a filming location for the remake of The Getaway starring Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, has been sitting vacant ever since.

Finally, in November of 2009, some enterprising local filmmakers briefly reclaimed the hotel as a filming location for their micro-budgeted horror production Renovation. The task was made a lot easier by the building's ownership structure.

“The city of Yuma actually owned the building and was willing to give us the location, free of charge,” explains Renovation director Robert Gwinn during an interview with FilmStew. “The hotel is rumored to be haunted, but I have no proof of that.”

A location with a friendly price tag

“After spending three weeks inside the pitch black of it's labyrinthine interior, I can say some people claim to have had some personal experiences inside,” he continues. “It's an old creepy building, wherever you go you can find dead animal bones. I moved some debris one night, to set a camera shot and a rotting smell filled the room. God knows what it was coming from, but no one was curious enough to look under the pile to find the source.”

Renovation officially premiered this past weekend in Yuma on October 23rd, and Gwinn says that the audience seemed to giggle and shudder in all the right places. The cast assembled by Gwinn and his creative partner Charles Pisaeno, the author of the script, is relatively impressive for such a bare-bones effort.

Among the familiar faces are Late Show regular Johnny Dark, Natalie Wood's younger sister Lana, grizzled veteran Terence Knox and Gods and Generals's Fred Griffith. Also in the cast is Tommy Lynch, an actor with whom Gwinn did Las Vegas interactive dinner theater in the early 2000's.

“The one moment I really loved, from a directing-the-actor standpoint, was with Anthony Hornus, who plays one of our chief bad guys,” Gwinn recalls. “It was late in the evening and we were shooting a lot of his character chasing people around in the hotel. Tony asked me between takes where I felt Donald was going, emotionally at that point in the script.”

Financed by writer Pisaeno

Tony and I had the crew step down the hall a few yards and the two of us sort of huddled up in the shadows and tossed our thoughts and concerns about,” he adds. “We worked out a lot of the character's frailty and what his arc was ultimately supposed to be.”

Gwinn isn't sure when and where the next screening of Renovation will be, but since half the cast and crew hail from Las Vegas, he would love to take it at some point to Sin City. The Southern California native grew up in Yuma before spending some formative early career years on the Strip.

“The cool thing about working in Vegas was that it was such a small film community,” says Gwinn. “There are a million performers, but only a handful of real actors. So if you are involved in one show and move to another, chances are you are going to start crossing paths with people you have worked with before, very quickly.”

“When I came back to Yuma, after being gone for so long, I realized that there are a lot of people in this area that want to be part of the film industry,” he adds. “The big problem is that there is no one to get the ball rolling. Yuma has writers, actors and even some very competent visual effects people. What it doesn't have are good programs to help those artists hone their skills.”

Perhaps Gwinn, who is already planning his next feature Virtue, can play a part in helping finally bring about those helpful, much needed programs.



  1. As an update... I had forgotten about this article, just running across it again after over a year. Virtue is looking for funding. Renovation is now Deadly Renovations and is being released to theaters in 2012, at last. We have started a local film club in Yuma Arizona and it's building momentum. Very cool re-reading this article.

  2. Hi Robert:

    That's great news about the upcoming 2012 release of DEADLY RENOVATIONS. Keep me posted as the premiere date nears, thanks.