Big night for Morning: Bay Area producer Todd Traina (right) joined San Francisco-raised director Leland Orser and his actor wife Jeanne Tripplehorn for the world premiere of their poignant drama Monday at the Sundance Kabuki.

Local Filmmakers In SFIFF Spotlight

Michael Fox April 27, 2010

Leland Orser (Morning) was born and raised in San Francisco; he saw his first movie (Mary Poppins) at the Alexandria. Joshua Grannell initially established himself as a San Francisco character via his alter ego Peaches Christ; now he’s bidding for immortality with his about-to-debut feature, All About Evil. The Butcher Brothers, the genre-stompin’ Nor Cal natives behind The Violent Kind, have long championed the ethos of local moviemaking. And Bay Area theater vet Amy Glazer’s second made-in-San Francisco drama, Seducing Charlie Barker, goes so far as to pass off Union Square for New York’s Madison Ave. Speaking of logistical derring-do, longtime Bay Area resident Christina Yao ventured halfway ‘round the world to shoot her Chinese epic Empire of Silver. All are on display in the current San Francisco International Film Festival.

The reluctant expatriate of the group, L.A.-based actor-writer-director Leland Orser, has local bona fides that include stints at the Cathedral School For Boys and the Branson School. “My fifth grade class shot a film on Super 8 of the story of Odysseus in Golden Gate Park,” he recalls in a late-night email. “I played one of the sirens.” In his early teens, Orser had a sourdough bread delivery route that he took over from one of his four brothers–the same brother, perhaps, whose best friend is Todd Traina, the local filmmaker who co-produced Morning.

Although the introspective drama was filmed in Los Angeles, it was always the director and his co-star and wife Jeanne Tripplehorn’s intention to unveil the film in San Francisco. (Morning had its world premiere Monday at the festival, and also screens Wed., April 28, at 1:45 p.m. and Wed., May 5 at 3:45 p.m.) “I never considered shooting Morning up here because it is such an L.A. story,” Orser explains. “Weather is a big character in Morning. And the weather is wrong here.” But his next script, which he’s 20 pages into, takes place in San Francisco. “I hear it’s expensive to shoot here,” Orser says dryly. “I hope they change that by the time I’m done [with the screenplay].”

Joshua Grannell shot every frame of his horror comedy All About Evil in San Francisco, mainly at the Victoria Theatre, Presidio Library, Armory and Everett Middle School. “I really don’t think I could have made this movie anywhere else,” he says. “So many people talk about the challenges of shooting in S.F., and while we encountered some of those—it’s expensive and doesn’t give you the same incentives lots of other cities now [do], the parking is a nightmare, resources are limited—it just wouldn’t have been the movie I wanted to make if we shot in another city. We depended on a loyal group of creative collaborators here to pull this thing off and everyone pitched in. The hundreds of extras that became our Victoria Theatre audience were made up of [Peaches Christ’s] Midnight Mass fans and worked endless hours for free to help us out. We wouldn’t have been supported that way in Los Angeles or Canada.”

Every local narrative filmmaker I ever met vowed to continue making films in the Bay Area, but it rarely pans out the way they hoped. (Finn Taylor is the one exception who comes to mind.) Grannell sees the challenges clearly, but he also sees a supportive community. “We’ve just set up Peaches Christ Productions with our primary Evil investor, and the company is going to operate exclusively in San Francisco, making content here, including a second feature film,” Grannell reports. “Sorry, S.F., I’m not going anywhere!”

The Butcher Brothers, a.k.a. Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores, are equally succinct in their philosophy and commitment to local filmmaking. “We grew up in the Bay Area and have been dedicated to making films in our own backyard since we picked up a camera,” they jotted in an email. “Nor Cal has always held its own kind of storytelling, and through our filmmaking we want to represent those local stories and characters (like the bike gang culture we used in The Violent Kind). The best part of shooting up here is the chance to tap into all those rich resources; the worst part – never having enough time to get to it all. We’re just getting warmed up.”

Amy Glazer’s adaptation of Theresa Rebeck’s play, Seducing Charlie Barker, was shot under highly unusual circumstances. The director, actors, director of photography and camera team lived together on site in a Pacific Heights apartment building owned by producer Maurice Kanbar. (“He also brought us Blue Angel martinis at the end of each shooting week, which definitely rallied the troops,” Glazer relates in what we readily acknowledge is a product placement.)

There’s a whole lot more to the Barker production saga, which I’ll share another day. But Glazer is already gearing up to direct Rebecca Gilman’s adaptation of her own play, Blue Surge, “about prostitutes and cops caught up in the American dream and the social status that marks us from birth and ultimately defines our lives. The film will be shot primarily in San Francisco for (believe it or not) the Midwest, with a quick jaunt to Wisconsin.”

It’s fair to say that Glazer speaks for most local filmmakers when she says, thinking about Seducing Charlie Barker, “I would have to say that shooting in San Francisco for me is sublime.”

Notes From the Underground
Marc Huestis edited the opening and closing, as well as numerous film clips, for the visual accompaniment to “An Affair With Tony Curtis,” a program that the movie star is currently touring. Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein’s Howl, which premiered at Sundance, has been acquired by Oscilloscope for a September theatrical and video-on-demand release. . . . A Single Man finally closed last Thursday after 19 weeks in S.F. theaters. The same day, Crazy Heart rolled out of town after 17 weeks.

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