The Outsiders

Susan Gerhard June 14, 2006

With “Cinema by the Bay,” Sheerly Avni has created not so much a coffee-table book, as a depth-charge desktop tome: You may want to get wired enough to finish it in one long sitting. This first title from George Lucas Books is a rich, visual history of San Francisco Bay Area filmmaking that that doesn’t just roll from A to Z (from American to Zoetrope), but digs up the Northern California roots of motion pictures themselves (from Muybridge to Von Stroheim, courtesy an elegant essay by former SF critic Michael Sragow). Alongside the cornerstones of the historical NoCal industry — Zaentz and Zoetrope, Lucasfilm, Pixar, and PDI — are page after page of directors (Carroll Ballard, Joan Chen, Clint Eastwood, Rob Nilsson, Henry Selick, Terry Zwigoff) who’ve helped SF maintain its status as a creative outpost. Avni, who’s appearing with the book at Diesel, A Bookstore on Thursday, and Kepler’s in Menlo Park next Friday, was kind enough to offer some succinct thoughts on the making of movies in San Francisco.

SF360: What was the most surprising thing you found out about filmmaking in the Bay Area through your research for ‘Cinema by the Bay’?

Sheerly Avni: Besides the fact that in 1963, you could rent a house in Marin for 125 dollars a month? I think probably I was most surprised to see just how so much of Bay Area cinema — and American Cinema, for that matter — can be traced directly back to Coppola and Lucas deciding to move here 35 years ago, and dragging all their friends with them. The word ‘revolution’ is overused, but in this case it fits.

SF360: What is your favorite Bay Area-made (or related) movie and why?

Avni: ‘The Godfather,’ ‘The Godfather,’ ‘The Godfather,’ ‘The Godfather.’ It’s a perfect movie. The acting, the lighting, Willis’ camerawork, there are a thousand other reasons, and every time you watch it you find a new one.

SF360: What do you consider the most interesting new trend in filmmaking in the Bay Area?

Avni: I know an 11-year old girl who shot video of her birthday party, mixed and edited it on her computer, burned it to a bunch of DVDs, and passed it out to all her friends as a party favor on their way out. I know a 16-year old boy in Juvenile Hall who plans to video his life after release to remind himself not to do anything that would violate probation.

At this point digital and animation technology is accelerating so quickly that teenagers can now do things you needed a 30 man department to make happen just ten years ago. This is of course a national phenomenon, not local, but I live in fear and trembling when I think of all those Pixar, Lucasfilm and PDI people who’ve settled down and started families.

The most interesting new trend in filmmaking in the Bay Area: Breeding. I’m only half-joking.

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