Friend and filmmaker Abe Levy recently forwarded a New York Times article regarding Bay Area film impresarios Saul Zaentz and Francis Ford Coppola folding the production wings of their individual companies. To keep accounts square, Coppola’s American Zoetrope is morphing into a DVD production house. Likewise, cutbacks at The Saul Zaentz Film Center, precipitated by the sale of Zaentz’ Fantasy Records label, is laying-off staffers. Pithily referring to the Fantasy sale, the subject of Levy’s e-mail read something to the effect of “the fantasy is dead.”
The fantasy, of course, was that the San Francisco Bay Area could sustain a viable film industry where indie filmmakers could flourish outside of Hollywood. If anything, this was an “island fantasy,” one that imagined the independent studios as oases from the mainland of commercial filmmaking ? not marooned but autonomous. To extend the metaphor, any bottled messages tossed toward the littered shores of Los Angeles would be withdrawal slips from, as Philip Kaufman calls the industry, “the bank.”
Written by Sharon Waxman, the Times piece (published 12/27/04 and syndicated to the San Francisco Chronicle where it is archived free online here http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/12/27/DDGG7AHC8B1.DTL ) focuses on the advent of better, cheaper and faster technologies in the form of digital video and laptops loaded with editing software as hastening the companies’ recent staff edits.
Coppola himself all but predicted this inevitability when in the Apocalypse Now making-of doc, Hearts of Darkness, he said “Some little fat girl in Ohio is going to make a beautiful movie with her father’s camcorder.” But did he expect the same little girl to edit and mix the sound of her masterpiece on a PowerBook thus fossilizing a big part of his business? Indeed, using off-the-shelf technology, my pal Levy can make a quality feature film with fewer zeroes in his budget than the sticker price of an average sedan. What indie filmmakers really need is that goddamn sedan money.
None of this is a heartbreaker for Coppola, for as the Times article reminds, the man is now a successful winemaker with a sprawling Napa vineyard and a popular trattoria in San Francisco’s North Beach (the only Italian eatery at which one can purchase a copy of Dementia 13 with the penne all’ arrabbiata).
Inside of a week of the Times article’s publication, Carla Meyer, a San Francisco Chronicle “Movie Writer” shared her more optimistic take on the downscaling of the Northern California film trade ( http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/01/03/DDG7VAJN291.DTL ). In the piece, Meyer cites a couple of confident politicos and the usual suspects of Bay Area filmmaking — Kaufman, George Lucas, Chris Colombus and Sean Penn among them — seemingly in agreement that the fantasy may be over, but the dream is made of different stuff.
Yeah, ones and zeroes, baby.