Hail the Conquering Hero

Why is a Bay Area filmmaker who cherishes his independence about to direct a $40 million studio film?

Hail the Conquering Hero"What I love about film," writer/director Finn Taylor declares, "is this: We all lead private lives of fantasy. I don't sit here and tell you in detail this lurid fantasy I might have had. But in Cherish, we get to see all of my characters' fantasies, individually, with their own soundtracks." The gregarious East Bay filmmaker laughs, then confides, "A lot of my fantasies have soundtracks to them."

Taylor adores music (the moody musings of Nick Drake and other lost boys keyed his offbeat 1997 debut, Dream With the Fishes, while vintage pop tunes make Cherish shimmer) almost as much as his autonomy. He and his producers independently financed the locally shot feature, then sold it at Sundance in January. "The value of the smaller palette is to be completely independent," he says. "Even with a small [company] funding an independent film, you get into group discussions. If I'm going to do that, I'd rather have the bigger palette." Case in point: Universal is about to put $40 million into Chaos Theory, an action-comedy Taylor will direct about an insurance actuary dispatched to investigate six highly unusual deaths. Taylor's screenplay was inspired by the infamous Darwin Awards, which "salute" people who died in really, really stupid ways. "What's cool about it is that it's different than anything you've seen a studio do," he asserts.

Taylor smiles when asked if he was more comfortable on the set the second time around. "I don't mean this in a demeaning way whatsoever, because I love actors, but I've worked with autistic teenagers," he says. "They have to be in their own world, they're totally vulnerable to you, and there'll be mood swings. Since I was able to manage that, it's made working with actors a lot easier." And studio execs, too, presumably. Cherish opens June 7.

The RockAfter nearly 15 years and some 3,000 film permits, Warren White has hung up his clipboard. As the liaison for the National Park Service (covering the Marin Headlands, Alcatraz, Fort Mason, etc.) and later as the special-use permits and filming supervisor for the Presidio, White found -- and protected -- locations for 138 feature films and countless TV commercials.

"The reason that people have gone to inert smoke, environmentally safe car crashes, and nontoxic antifreeze is because of locations like national parks that insist on it," White notes. "For example, there's something called the Presidio hanger, which is a way to attach things to a clapboard-sided building so there's no intrusion into the wood or paint."

White explains that an enviro-friendly car crash means the gas, oil, and battery have been removed from the vehicle and the glass replaced with breakaway plastic. (Give credit to the sound designer and mixer for selling the illusion.)

Originally schooled as a botanist and historian, White studied filmmaking in the late '80s. Since he took a buyout from the Presidio Trust on April 30, he's been eyeing a couple of documentary projects. His former assistant, Kimberly Sporkmann, has taken over as the Presidio's filming supervisor.

Paths of GloryIn San Francisco back in the early '80s, Jonathan Parker asked a friend to shoot his rock group's music video. That friend, Lenny Lieberman, went on to become the king of infomercials, Parker says good-naturedly, while the band, the Question Men, vanished into obscurity. But not before the video aired on Nickelodeon, where it was spotted by a then-up-and-coming producer named Brian Grazer (Splash, A Beautiful Mind). "Hey, how about if I pay for your next movie?" Grazer asked Parker, the video's de facto director, when he tracked him down on the phone. "My next movie?" Parker replied. "What the hell are you talking about? I'm playing in a band."

Parker did eventually mutate into filmmaking without any help from Hollywood. His droll indie feature, Bartleby, played the film festival circuit last year and is now getting a national release. Parker filmed the adaptation of a Herman Melville short story in San Rafael, where he also plans to shoot Californians, the new script he wrote with Catherine di Napoli. "It's totally a Marin County story, about an environmentalist and a developer who fall in love with the same woman," Parker related when we chatted recently in his Cow Hollow office. It borrows a plot thread from another classic of American literature, Henry James' The Bostonians.

 
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