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'House on the Hill' a spirited Internet TV comedy made in Sonoma County

Daniel Sullivan, front, Jeff Bodean, working camera boom, and soundman Jim Price, back, watch the monitor as they set up a shot of Tangela, left, and Tamara, played by Artemis Acetrack, left, and Emily Somple, while shooting a haunted-house sitcom at their Crowhaven Production studio in Windsor on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013.

Scott Manchester / The Press Democrat
Published: Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 2:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 10:33 a.m.

Eerie things are going on at a business park between the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport and Windsor.

A grand old chair lurches backward as a visitor goes to sit. Unseen forces rattle wall hangings. People pop in and out of a casket.

What's happening inside the Crowhaven Productions office is a sometimes scary foray into Internet television. Jeff Bodean, whose professional credits include actor, set engineer and software developer, is producing a haunted-house comedy, "The House on the Hill."

For the present, the sitcom appears only online (houseonthehill.tv). As much as Bodean would love to entice a TV network to buy it, he figures, "It's easier to have tea with the queen than to go through that process."

So he and director-actor Dan Sullivan, a former standup comic who once hosted a traveling beer show and scored an extra role in "Moneyball," work to attract online hits to their program, at present consisting of two episodes.

"We get views all over the world," Sullivan said. He's bemused by tracking that shows "The House on the Hill" attracts clusters of Internet viewers in the Philippines and the United Kingdom.

It wasn't all that long ago that a production company as small as Bodean and Sullivan's couldn't hope to create a show and present it to potentially millions of viewers. Then came quality, relatively inexpensive digital cameras and editing technology -- far cheaper than working with film -- and the Web.

"Now two guys in a garage can do stuff that rivals 'Star Wars,' " Bodean said.

His and Sullivan's two episodes feature some outdoors and on-location shots that show off Sonoma County. But much of the action happens on an elaborate, $200,000 set that Bodean had constructed in a commercial space near the airport.

Mimicking the interior of a Victorian mansion, the set is richly decorated with antiques, mounted animal heads, creepy figurines and other curiosities that took Bodean months of shopping to compile.

He could afford to create the set and launch "The House on the Hill" because he has a day job.

"We've got a little bit of a war chest," he said. He founded and operates Micromat, a Santa Rosa firm that sells software that performs diagnosis and repair of Macintosh computers.

"The company for the most part runs itself," he said.

He stars in his indie TV show as a former rock singer who withdraws to a once-grand estate on a hill. It quickly becomes clear the old place is quite spirited.

"The house plays a role," Sullivan said. "There are people who come in whom the house doesn't like."

Everyone in the cast is local, and few have any previous acting experience.

"We pretty much casted friends," Bodean said.

He and Sullivan say they find it liberating to work with actors who are fresh and eager -- and who at this point are willing to work for little or nothing.

"It's a labor of love," Bodean said. "It is definitely not something they could make a living from yet."

Barring a sale to a studio or syndication, the show's most likely route to commercial success would be to attract the large numbers of online viewers required for making money on YouTube or Vimeo. Bodean and Sullivan are thinking there's also potential for selling "The House on the Hill" merchandise.

Whatever comes of the show, Bodean said, making it "is the funnest thing I've ever done."

Sullivan raised a hand and said, "Over here, too."

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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