Sign o' the Times Ready Set, the esteemed Bayview District firm that supplied custom sets, special effects, and props for countless locally shot movies and TV commercials, shuttered last month after 25 years in show business. Founder Kevin Rooney retired; longtime partner Erik Anderson moved to the East Bay to set up a new shop doing specialty fabrications, along with welding and carpentry. What happened? It's the economy, stupid, with the slowdown in advertising compounded by the popping of the dot-com bubble (with those companies' attendant marketing needs) and the cancellation two years ago of the S.F.-based Nash Bridges (which spent gobs of money on lumber and sets).
Ready Set felt the squeeze, Anderson says. "We noticed a trend of young producers calling up and saying, 'We have really no money to do this project. What's the lowest price you could do this for?' And we were still beat out by other people. Even the smallest independent shop can't produce something for the price producers are looking for right now. There's still work out there; it's just how hungry you are and how much you're willing to give up."
Noting that the recession also recently claimed S.F.'s Custer Avenue Stages, one of the largest sound stages in the Bay Area, Anderson laments, "I hate to see the film business leave the Bay Area."
The desperate economy, as well as the general indifference of both politicians and ordinary citizens, inspired the formation last May of the Bay Area Film Alliance. A loose confederation of 170 to 200 local film professionals -- including David Hakim, executive chairman of the S.F. coordinating committee of the Directors Guild of America -- BAFA has the goal of promoting film and video production in S.F. A key approach involves building relationships and influencing city policy; to that end, Hakim reports, BAFA gave Film & Video Arts Commission Executive Director Martha Cohen a lengthy but polite letter consisting of both counsel and support. "The fact is there are more people working here in film today than there were 20 years ago," Hakim says. It's too early for BAFA to claim results, but it has its eye on lobbying for state legislation to provide incentives for producers to shoot in California.
Through the Olive Trees "In the '60s, if I wanted to get a sense of what was going on in the world, I would go to Jean-Luc Godard's films," says Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. "Abbas Kiarostami tells me more than anyone else what's going on in the world now." A staunch internationalist, Rosenbaum points out that Americans are exposed to a mere sliver of world cinema -- critics and filmgoers who deem this a fallow period for movies are speaking through their hats. "In no period are we ever in a position to know everything that's out there," Rosenbaum asserts. "It's arrogant to say the '90s [were] a bad time." Rosenbaum also debunks the myth that American films peaked in 1939 and the received wisdom that they've become truly terrible in the last two decades. In compiling Pantheon Movie Picks: Recanonizing Cinema, a tome that Johns Hopkins University will publish later this year or early in 2004, Rosenbaum found that he'd culled the most films from the 1950s. "That's when it peaked, and it tapered off after that," he maintains. "There wasn't a drastic narrowing between the '70s and the '90s."
The critic, who taught at UC Berkeley for a quarter in the '80s and is the co-author of an upcoming collection of essays and interviews with Kiarostami, was on hand when the S.F. International Film Festival presented the Akira Kurosawa Award to the Iranian director. He returns to the city tonight to introduce Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Rosenbaum also presents A Great Day in Harlem on Friday, Jan. 10, and Touch of Evil on Saturday, Jan. 11, at YBCA. Call 978-ARTS or visit www.yerbabuenaarts.org for info.