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On Location: San Francisco

On Location: San Francisco

Articles - Directing

"It’s an odd thing, but everyone who
disappears is said to be seen at San Francisco. It must be a delightful
city, and possess all the attractions of the next world."
—Lord Henry Wotton (George Sanders) in The Picture of
Dorian Gray
(1945)

Speak with any San Francisco-based moviemaker, and
he or she is likely to agree: San Francisco is indeed a delightful
city. Though it’s the fifth largest metropolitan region in
the United States, people come—and stay—in San Francisco
because of its “small town” atmosphere. A hotspot of
arts and culture, the city also boasts a diverse collection of neighborhoods,
from North Beach to Chinatown. It’s this chameleon-like quality
that brings as divergent productions—and characters—as
Dirty Harry and Dr. Dolittle to the Bay Area. But what about those
moviemakers who call San Francisco home every day of the year? MM recently spoke with a group of them about just what makes this city
so special.

What could be better? An amazingly talented pool of
people and a counter-logical and incredibly complex microclimate
eco­system. But mostly, it’s the people. In the midst of an increasingly
cynical and bottom line-oriented world, there is a reassuring sense
of community in the film folk of this town. People constantly help
each other selflessly execute the most surreal and utterly non-commercial
projects for the love of the medium.

Mo Husseini

—Mo Husseini, Director

Joan Levinson

Because the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area is a
cauldron of film lovers, creative arts people and hundreds of movie­makers—as
well as up-to-the-minute technology—it’s a perfect nesting place
for movie­making at all levels. Perhaps the primo element is the
culture of professional generosity—encouragement, critiques,
flexible tech rates for moviemakers—that makes every film venture
a truly cooperative one.

—Joan Levinson, Co-Producer (Let’s
Face It)

San Francisco is like a rich aunt every movie­maker
wishes he had. She supports my moviemaking with her wealth of resources,
beautiful surroundings and inspiring people. The city is a muse
for new compositions, stories and ideas.

—Jason Wolos, Writer/Director
(Waiter Duty, The High & The Mighty),
Education Director, Film Arts Foundation

Jason Wolos

In my backyard I have redwoods, Victorians, bridges,
beaches, farms, vineyards, snow-capped mountains, urban sprawl,
suburban sprawl, ethnic diversity and widespread perversity (I have
a big backyard). San Francisco is a location Shangri-La with an
incredibly supportive local renegade moviemaking community. And
we have better coffee than LA!

—Lee Miller, Writer/Director

Desi del Valle

If free speech and individuality are American characteristics,
there is no place more American than San Francisco. Movie stars
here are not flesh-and-blood people, but ideas and cries for social
change. San Franciscans love film. To quote one colleague: “You
can’t spit here and not hit a film festival.”

—Desi del Valle, Director/Actress
Frameline Distribution

I grew up in suburbia, but studied film in San Francisco,
where Gene Hackman recorded the famous conversation. I once wanted
to make blockbusters, but became a personal moviemaker when exposed
to a city of personal views, expression, diversity and art.

—Michael Picarella, Writer/Director
(1 2 3, Punchcard Player), www.nppro.com

Jennifer Chaiken

San Francisco has one of strongest documentary communities
in the country. Always looking to peers and other filmmakers for
inspiration, San Francisco has much to offer. It has always been
a city that fosters critical thinking that’s free of constraint
and outside of the box. As an independent moviemaker, one cannot
ask for much more than freedom of thought.

—Jennifer Chaiken, Producer
(My Flesh and Blood, Big Eden, Naked States)

Paul VanDeCarr

The beauty of San Francisco is there’s an enormous
and largely untapped pool of talent on both sides of the camera.
It has locations to die for, a cosmopolitan feel and a small-town
“anything’s possible” attitude. Its uniqueness enabled us to create
a rare entity in Full Circle, where we can both produce films and
nurture actors. It’s a city of dreams where we can explore a different—and
perhaps better—way to make films.

—John Howard Swain, Producer/Director

San Francisco is my muse. Many views, many filmmakers,
much filmed. The challenge is responding to the city as I see it
and as others have envisioned it. Working here has taught—and is
teaching—me to always look anew for the particulars, to stay in
the conversation that is San Francisco.

—Paul VanDeCarr, Director (After
Jonestown),
paulvdc@hotmail.com

Karil Daniels

I work and live in the South Bay and document the
lives and struggles of gay and lesbian people who work and live
in the suburbs. The San Francisco film community is like a huge
umbrella that casts its shadow all the way to San Jose. Most of
the time, that umbrella offers support and shelter; sometimes it
darkens and dampens, since suburbia and its middle class ambience
aren’t perceived to be as hip as the gritty city. My education:
being true to my vision.

—Pam Walton, Independent Video Producer
(Out in Suburbia, Gay Youth)

Paul M. Lucia

Twenty years ago I told my dad I was moving to San
Francisco. His response: “Only kooks and crazies live there!” Turns
out, being crazy is a good prerequisite for being an independent
moviemaker, which is perhaps why there is such a dynamic community
of us up here.

—Gary Weimberg, Luna Productions

The San Francisco Bay Area is a wonderful mix of peoples,
cultures, history, architecture and geography. The physical beauty,
mixed with a huge amount of creative energy, means an environment
that is both soothing and stimulating. The mutual help and support
that is standard for people in this media community is a big plus.

—Karil Daniels, Location Scout/Indie
moviemaker (Water Baby: Experience of Waterbirth)

Terry Heffernan

San Francisco is a provincial city of
contrasting looks, perched on a peninsula only seven miles wide.
Result: reputation is key. A highly talented pool of cast and crew
exists here. The trick is catching them before or after they’ve
made the trek to Mecca (Los Angeles). San Francisco does work.

—Paul M. Lucia, Producer/Director

Abundant independent and student films.
Excellent coaches. Film clubs and alliances. Showcases, free concerts
and art galleries. The California Independent Film Festival! But
SF’s greatest gift is generosity. My acting competition genuinely
helps me give my best audition because, though they want the part,
too, the SF community is… just that.

—Lauren VA Waters, Actor
(The Ronin Boys, Madison Rye)

Yoav Potash

San Francisco is a city that values individuality.
I used to live in Los Angeles, and I always felt self-conscious
there about my clothes, my car and all the ways in which my films
were different from those in the mainstream. In San Francisco, the
more different the better.

— Caveh Zahedi, Director
(A Little Stiff, I Don’t Hate Las Vegas Anymore)

San Francisco affects my way of seeing
and moviemaking on a daily basis. Its interplay of light, shape
and form entertain and delight my senses. This, combined with incredibly
diverse cultures and cuisines, creates a fertile learning ground
for art, life and moviemaking. It is the best of all worlds.

—Terry Heffernan, Director

Jenni Olso

I believe in energy, and there’s
a lot of it here. Living in San Francisco has been a source of artistic
nutrition for me, and has given me unexpected inspiration. Daily
life here gives me the feeling that perhaps it’s really not
about the work I’m creating. Maybe it’s more about my
participation in the process.

—Theresa Wingert, Director

A city of warm people and schizophrenic weather,
San Francisco is the California counterpoint to LA’s constant
sunshine and company town mentality. Moviemakers
here have diverse backgrounds. I’ve collaborated
with former doctors, engineers, paratroopers and activists.
Young and old, fictionphiles and doc-lovers. We huddle in North
Beach cafes, trading cameras and keyboard shortcuts.

—Yoav Potash, yopo@yoavpotash.com

San Francisco is a place of magical
self-discovery and melancholy beauty. The city itself is my daily
cinematic muse. Some of the lesser-known facets of San Francisco
have provided the backdrop for many of my short films (not the traditional
landmarks, but the far more inspiring mundane back alleys). These
exquisite landscapes are the star of my current feature, The
Joy of Life
.

—Jenni Olson, Writer/Director
(The Joy of Life, Meep Meep!, Blue Diary)

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