Dana Brunetti, as famous for dating models as for making hits like 'The Social Network' and 'House of Cards,' has sold his Ferraris and moved to a compound in the Sierra foothills, where he's sitting out COVID-19 and filming a reality show about himself: "People here are freaking super nice. It's a little unsettling."
Dana Brunetti remembers exactly what he was thinking the day he sold his four Ferraris and made an offer on a remote 40-acre plot in Northern California’s Sierra foothills — and it had nothing to do with the novel coronavirus. This was December, just before the first reports of a deadly epidemic in China had started trickling into the Western media. "I was over fucking L.A.," says the producer, 46. "And I have been for a while."
While the rest of the industry is hunkering down in Southern California, the guy who produced The Social Network and House of Cards — who was just as famous for dating actresses and models and chronicling his Entourage-esque lifestyle as he was for making award-winning movies and TV shows — is sporting a Grizzly Adams beard and sitting out the COVID-19 crisis in a used Airstream on an isolated ranch east of Sacramento.
The onetime Chateau Marmont regular is learning to live the rustic life with his fiancee of one and a half years, Alexandra Pakzad, a 32-year-old intellectual property attorney (and daughter of late Iranian menswear designer Bijan Pakzad and step-daughter of Dole Fruit billionaire David Murdock).
Brunetti bought a bulldozer, two skid steers, an excavator, a dump truck, an ATV, a farm truck, a crane and an amphibious vehicle and has been setting up not just a survivalist sanctuary but his very own one-man production facility. He’s already at work on his first project shot on the property, Gone Country, a reality show about his metamorphosis from sharky Hollywood producer to modern-day squire.
"It’s kind of like Green Acres 2.0," is how he describes it. "Alex grew up in Beverly Hills, and now we’re out in the middle of nowhere living in an Airstream. If it’s a hit, I’d end up the Kim Kardashian of preppers."
In truth, Brunetti — who started his career, after a stint in the Coast Guard, as Kevin Spacey’s assistant in 1997 — has been social distancing himself from Hollywood for years (or at least since "it lost its sense of humor and edge," he says). Notes MGM film chairman Michael De Luca, who produced Fifty Shades of Grey and several other movies with Brunetti: "Dana was always looking for a reason to not hang out with anybody in Hollywood. He had a man-of-the-people vibe and never hid his contempt for the affectation that you find sometimes in the entertainment industry. So, to me, it was a natural progression [for him to move]. I actually wondered why it took so long."
Even before he purchased the ranch, Brunetti had been restructuring his business and personal life to make it more nimble. He sold his Toluca Lake house (keeping his William Adams-designed Los Feliz home) and turned his newly launched Cavalry Media — the management and production company he runs with former Relativity Media finance exec Keegan Rosenberger — into a virtual operation.
The privately funded company, whose clients include Alec Baldwin and with such films in development as a Thai cave rescue project, has no physical headquarters. Its 11 employees normally meet once a week in person at Brunetti’s L.A. house (before the lockdown, Brunetti would fly in for the occasion) and conduct the rest of their business by phone, email or Google Hangouts.
"I hate meetings,” Brunetti says. "It’s a time suck, the time you spend getting to them and the niceties and everything of getting to the point. So, as a company, we’re in good shape right now. We don’t have $40,000 a month in rent that is going to waste."
Given that Pakzad is an accomplished equestrian, Brunetti was looking for a parcel with enough space to build her a riding arena and stables and as far away from celebrity culture as possible. Northern California fit the bill — “you get a lot more for your money up there, and the people are not in the bubble of Southern California” — so in September, he and Pakzad started scouting for land, living for a time in the guest house of nurse Shannon Reese, who, until 2017, was married to ... Alexandra Pakzad. “Figure that out,” Brunetti says of the unconventional setup. “And Shannon’s new partner is the broker who sold my Toluca Lake house and helped me buy this land and is a good friend of mine.”
Brunetti and Pakzad stayed in Reese’s guest house for two months even after Brunetti had found and purchased his new homestead. “I would come out here [to the ranch] in the morning, work the land, clearing it, getting shit together, working with the project manager and then take business calls, return emails to keep the trains running, and then driving back at dark every day,” he goes on. “But I was feeling bad because I didn’t want to be a mooch and stay at their house constantly. They were completely fine with it, but a buddy of mine said, ‘Why don’t you get an Airstream and put it out there?’ And initially I was like, ‘That’s fucking crazy.’”
On a whim, he and Pakzad drove to an Airstream dealer and bought one for $100,000 that day (they have since bought a second that they are using as an office). Brunetti hooked up power and water using the wells on the property and started planning for a solar energy source with battery backup in case the power goes down. "It’s actually really fucking nice," he says of the temporary home (until he clears the land to make room for two houses, a barn and other civilized amenities).
Some of his closest friends were impressed, even before the headlines turned dire. Into the Badlands star Daniel Wu texted Brunetti after seeing pictures of the compound and asked to come up from his home in Oakland for a visit. But once the California governor issued a stay-at-home order on March 20, the visit was shelved.
“Before coronavirus, I was just surprised that with such a busy work schedule he was able to pull this off, three or four days a week up there bulldozing and then three or four days a week down in L.A. doing his power plays,” says Wu, who first met Brunetti when the actor was filming the 2011 drama Inseparable opposite Spacey and the pair bonded over a mutual Star Wars obsession. “Now, it’s impeccable timing that he has this property.”
Since the lockdown, Brunetti, Pakzad and sometimes Brunetti’s 7-year-old daughter, Estella (her mom is House of Cards costume designer Johanna Argan), have been holed up in a space "the size of our bedroom in L.A.," as Pakzad describes the Airstream, keeping much farther than 6 feet from their neighbors, who’ve turned out to be a lot friendlier than folks downstate.
"I’ve lived in Los Feliz for 15 years and met maybe two neighbors," Brunetti says. “People here are freaking super nice. It’s a little unsettling. I try not to tell them what I do because Hollywood is not really liked in this area for political reasons."
Brunetti’s own politics are hard to pin down. He’s a self-described moderate. "I’m not a MAGA hat-wearing Republican," he insists, just before calling Hollywood liberals "total hypocrites. Some who would normally be anti-gun are now asking me how to get one." In fact, he’s a big Second Amendment fan. "I have a shotgun and a pistol, and if anybody has a problem with it, fuck them," he says. There’s an ammo store near here and I bought a thousand rounds. I’m teaching Alex how to shoot as well."
Pakzad seems OK with it. "Our first Christmas together, he got me a handgun," she says. “Being with him, I’ve definitely learned more.”
The couple planned on getting married in Cabo on June 20, but the wedding has been postponed for obvious reasons (they will now tie the knot in 2021 at the ranch). Meanwhile, like everyone else, they’re both getting on with business remotely. “I keep wondering if someone on Zoom is going to be like, ‘Are you in an Airstream?' " says Pakzad, who works at the firm Russ, August & Kabat.
For Brunetti, the lockdown hasn’t really impacted his workflow much at all. In another bit of auspicious timing, Cavalry launched a preplanned podcast division on March 13. The first podcast released, Made Women from Sopranos star Drea De Matteo, is a top podcast on Apple. He continues to tinker with Gone Country, which he plans to shop in the coming weeks, and is looking for other homegrown projects.
"For the business to sustain, we need content,” he says. “We need to keep feeding the beast. Productions will stay shut down for a while. So that’s why I’m looking now at — ‘How do we continue to create content?’ I’m looking at what I did with Gone Country. That only required one shooter who came up here and was isolated with me and then sent [the footage] to Atlanta to get edited. So I think it’s something that we could take and franchise out another way and do similar type things to get good entertainment done still."
Even when things do go back to normal, though, it’s not clear if Brunetti will ever return to Hollywood.
"When I first started coming up here, I thought I could hear traffic," he says. "I was super confused. Where was it coming from? The nearest interstate is miles away. Turns out it’s just the sound the wind makes blowing through the trees."
This story first appeared in the April 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.