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Hidden Valley neighborhood is 'stage' for TV commercial

Cottage Grove officers Gina Lamers and Dave Clausen converse with comedian Samantha Bee during filming. Bee is best known as a correspondent for "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart. (Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner)

Cottage Grove's Hidden Valley neighborhood won't be hidden when a new Kraft Foods commercial hits the national stage.

Neighborhood residents noticed trucks, recreational vehicles and many cars in the area on Friday, March 27. They wondered what was happening, especially when they saw people bundled up in parkas driving a golf cart up and down the streets.

A film crew of 35 people shooting a commercial for Kraft Ranch dressing caused the hubbub.

One scene took place on the Hidden Valley Lane cul-de-sac where a large Kraft Ranch dressing recreational vehicle was parked. Cameras rolled as Cottage Grove Police officers Dave Clausen and Gina Lamers drove up behind it with the siren blaring.

Comedian Samantha Bee, who is best known as a correspondent for "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," exited the truck to explain why the trailer was illegally parked. She said she was on a nationwide tour to have people taste Kraft's Ranch dressing. Officers issued her a ticket.

In the next scene, Clausen and Lammers took vegetables from a tray held by Bee, dipped them in the dressing and said it was "very good."

The company producing the commercial brought some workers from Los Angeles, but local people were also hired from the Twin Cities area, according to site manager Mike Bergemann, also from Los Angeles.

In charge of finding and managing locations, Bergemann started with a Google search that led him to a dozen Hidden Valley developments. He traveled to Pittsburgh, Virginia, California, Indiana, Georgia and Cottage Grove over two weeks.

When he and the film crew got to Cottage Grove's Hidden Valley three weeks ago, they called association president Kari Doffing to ask about seeing the inside of one of the homes.

Doffing volunteered her sister's home. Her sister Trish Sterling and her husband Chris were vacationing in Florida.

Trish and Kari's mother, Jean Shutte, was staying with the Sterlings' children, Halle and Tanner.

"I wondered if they were legit," Shutte said in an interview on the day the commercial was filmed.

When Trish got a call from her mother, she told Chris she thought it was a scam.

Shutte asked producer Bernard Rahill if he had filmed anything she would recognize and was told he had won an Emmy.

Bergemann said he filmed the Budweiser beer commercial that ran during this year's Super Bowl.

The filmmakers liked the house and Shutte decided they were legitimate.

Doffing e-mailed residents on the association's list and 35 people were interviewed at the Sterling home, but the two sisters and their mother weren't sold on the fact the commercial would actually happen.

Then, last week, Trish found out the crew from California was returning for the commercial. "Oh, my gosh," she told Shutte. "They're coming back."

The crew first stopped at the police department to inform them they would be filming on public streets and to get two officers to be in the commercial.

"I had half the department at my house," Sterling said. "It was crazy. The producers said they decided on Cottage Grove because people were so nice, not like some of the other places they had been."

Sterling and Doffing were told Kraft didn't want any teens in the commercial because the audience they want to reach is from 20 to 60 years old.

Kraft wanted "real people" in the commercial to give an overall impression of Americana. The message is that even people who live in Hidden Valley prefer Kraft Ranch dressing, according to Doffing.

"They just asked us to be ourselves," said Lynn McGraw, Hidden Valley resident chosen to be in the commercial.

Film crews have schedules, but they are subject to change -- something those picked to be in the commercial discovered. Halle Sterling had to wait until after dinner for her scene at the piano in the family's music room.

Jane Mauer, slated to be in a fireplace scene with McGraw, was told to be at Sterling's, home base for the film crew, at 4:30 p.m. She was called to be there at 12:15 p.m. instead. Arriving with damp hair after a quick shower, she was still chatting with her neighbors at 12:30 p.m. when she was told by second producer Jeremy Oswald to be ready at 1:30 p.m. At 2:15 p.m., McGraw and Mauer were told to go to Kristi Hein's home for their scene.

Joggers Kris Huseby and Mike McCauley didn't have to wait for their scene because it was the first one of the day.

Other than the fact that the commercial will run for 13 weeks, those associated with the filming don't know when the commercial will be shown.

For their participation in the commercial and the cooperation of Doffing and the homeowner's association, the production company said it would make a donation toward replacement of the monuments at entrances to the development.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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