Waiting for Guffman

Finn Taylor gets movie distribution without selling his soul, plus HBO on heroin and anime at the Metreon

Cherish director Finn Taylor is gearing up to shoot his third feature in the East Bay early next year. An ensemble comedy about community theater in a small town, Caught in the Act marks the first time Taylor will direct somebody else's script. "It was brought to me by Tim and David," he says, referring to Cherish's star Tim Blake Nelson and Dream With the Fishes' David Arquette. Several high-profile actors are waiting in the wings, so to speak, with Arquette -- who optioned the property and is producing the picture -- and Nelson already claiming roles. Courteney Cox has a part, too, but she has an edge: She's married to the producer.

A distributor has committed half the budget for Caught in the Act in exchange for theatrical rights, marking a departure from Taylor's usual strategy. Typically, deep-pocket individuals finance his movies and take their profit when the film sells to a distributor at the Toronto or Sundance film festivals. That approach not only gives Taylor complete autonomy, but it also saves him the hassle of explaining to marketing-obsessed studio dweebs how his unclassifiable stories will play on screen. This time out, he still has creative control, and the distribution's assured. With the dough lined up for the new flick, Taylor says cheerily, "I get to preserve my investor funds for my weird projects that are hard to pitch ahead of time."

Another Day in ParadiseWhen Steven Okazaki finished his documentary portrait of young San Francisco junkies, Black Tar Heroin, in 2000 for HBO, he was primed for something, well, lighter. "I didn't want to do another drug piece, after spending 3 1/2 years in the Tenderloin," the Oakland filmmaker recalls. "But they thought my other ideas were too cheery." So Okazaki trekked to Santa Cruz, where he filmed six middle-class kids going through a 30-day drug and alcohol rehab program -- and tracked them for the next year.

Okazaki is just about finished shooting Rehab (as it's tentatively called), and there's one day he won't soon forget. "I had a nightmare I didn't have on Black Tar: Someone OD'd right in front of me. I was on location and I didn't know exactly where I was, so the emergency rescue people took about 20 minutes to come. You're supposed to be filming, but I dropped the camera." He applied mouth-to-mouth and kept slapping the girl to keep her awake, but once the emergency people arrived Okazaki started shooting again. Alas, that last part is all the girl was really conscious for, so she thought the filmmaker was using her.

Okazaki detected an MTV influence when he was looking for people willing to be in the film. "I have a theory that kids grow up watching The Real World and expect to be in a documentary one day," he says. Twentysomething junkies have a slightly different agenda, of course. "They might be very concerned if they're going to come off cool or not, but they have this other thing on their mind that overrides everything." Rehab airs next year on HBO, with an outside chance of playing Sundance in January.

Spirited AwayHow many hard-core fans of anime (Japanese animation) are there in the Bay Area? More than you'd expect. It'll be a wild scene when the second annual Metreon Festival of Anime spills over to the 100-seat screening room at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for four showings this weekend of Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. Based on the TV show created by Shinichiro Watanabe, the Columbia-TriStar film opens early next year.

The Festival of Anime encompasses more than just Cowboy Bebop, and the Metreon's interest in anime extends well beyond one weekend a year. Since 2001, the theater has hosted free anime screenings on Friday and Saturday evenings at Action Theatre on the center's second floor. While this might have something to do with selling toys and costumes and action-figure model kits and trading cards and DVDs at the Bandai Shop adjacent to the theater, I doubt it. Call 369-6098 or visit www.metreon.com for details.

 
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