Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, March 1, 1999
Wright County goes to the Oscars
By John Holler
On March 21, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will hand out their annual Oscars for excellence in film in 1998.
As would be expected, the names that shaped the big races will be a part of Oscar night - Spielberg, Hanks, Streep, Hozempa.
Believe it or not, if not for Wright County Sheriff Don Hozempa, the film "A Simple Plan" may have had a far different look. The movie, which was set in Delano, has earned a pair of Oscar nominations - one for adapted screenplay and the other for actor Billy Bob Thornton.
While the community was excited about having a major motion picture filmed in Wright County, Hozempa didn't share the same enthusiasm. He didn't want the police to come off looking like buffoons, as others have in recent films.
"I was really apprehensive about being caught in a 'Fargo' situation," said Hozempa, referring to the Minnesota-based film that portrayed law enforcement in a less-than-flattering light. "I thought there was a chance that they could make us look like we're not very bright. So, I told them I wanted to read the script."
Such demands are typically reserved for pampered stars, but the film's producers accommodated his request, adding film critic to Hozempa's other duties. While he did comply with the company's requests, which ranged from the use of the sheriff's department logo and replica badges to department coffee mugs, arm emblems and unique paint number for vehicles, he wasn't without a few lingering reservations.
"I was concerned, because the script had a lot of violence and a graphic sex scene," Hozempa said. "But that's what sells these days and, although they took the sex scene out of the finished picture, it was still very violent and I was concerned."
For those unfamiliar with the film, it centers on three struggling Wright County locals who stumble across a crashed airplane that, along with a couple of dead bodies, contained $4.4 million in cash.
The three decide to keep the money and the film degenerates as each loses trust in the others and falls victim to pressure and blackmail tactics.
While the script was interesting enough, Hozempa still had a problem - the character that was portraying him. While he was technically the sheriff of Wright County, he was referred to as the chief of police - something that would be missed by almost everyone but Hozempa.
"I tried to square them away that the sheriff is not a chief of police," Hozempa said. "I couldn't get them to understand that no matter what we did, so he stayed a chief."
Hozempa was offered a chance to be an extra in the film, but declined. He found the scenes shot with extras - almost all of which ended up on the cutting room floor - to be too repetitive and time-consuming, but his department was involved in many aspects of the film - ranging from off-duty officers working patrol and security during filming to serving as technical advisers for the crime scene.
As it turned out, less of the movie was shot in Wright County than originally expected. The filming began in late October of 1997, but, thanks to the much-celebrated El Nino, the film was missing one crucial element - a typical blanket of Minnesota snow. Many of the outdoor scenes had to be moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where even El Nino can't stop lake-effect snow.
When the movie held its pre-release premiere party at the Mall of America, Hozempa schmoozed with the wine and cheese set, but figures that was the extent of his brush with Hollywood.
While he was very impressed with Thornton, the Oscar-winning actor/writer that won an Academy Award for "Slingblade" and who Hozempa thinks has a good chance of bringing home Oscar gold March 21, the movie won't be one that he would likely see again.
"It was an experience that a lot of people will never see again in their lifetimes, so that was something a lot of them will take away from all this," Hozempa said.
"I thought the acting was superb, but if I was rating it, I would probably give it a thumbs down. It was just too depressing. It was a good movie, but just not my type of film that I would like to see. I'd recommend people go see it, because of the local ties, but I like a movie you can feel good when you leave the theater and this wasn't one of them."
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