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Working Day & Night: Run-up to The Oak Park Story WIP screenings

Veasina Thang & Khlot Ry break it down, The Oak Park Story, 2009

Veasina Thang & Khlot Ry break it down, The Oak Park Story, 2009

I’ve been on a little blogging hiatus for a few weeks because I’ve been furiously working on my latest movie, a documentary called The Oak Park Story. Filmmaking is my primary creative outlet, and in the past I’ve produced a bunch of experimental videos and short documentaries, although I’ve been less prolific since having kids. I’ve managed to put together a few micro-shorts since entering parenthood, but this new flick is the longest and most involved project I’ve worked on in many a year. The film just had two work-in-progress screenings almost back-to-back, so I’ve been cranking on the Final Cut Pro full time for more than a month.

I was lucky enough to get a residency this year from the San Francisco Film Society’s Filmhouse program, which provides free office space for selected film projects. They gave me a nice sunny little room down on the Embarcadero near Pier 39 where I’ve parked my iMac, my scanner, and my collection of hard drives for the past five months or so. It’s great to have a room of my own, away from my messy house, with a free parking space and ready access via streetcar to the Ferry Plaza building. I’m afraid I’ve spent way too much money on Taylor’s Automatic Refresher’s divine hamburgers and sweet potato fries, Out The Door’s excellent wonton noodle soup, and Blue Bottle’s outstanding drip coffee. But I’ve also managed to be pretty productive as far as my movie is concerned and I was able to knock out a reasonable facsimile of a film in time for both screenings.

Khlot Ry, Oak Park tenant, The Oak Park Story, 2009

Khlot Ry, Oak Park tenant, The Oak Park Story, 2009

The documentary is all about an amazing coalition of tenant-activists at the Oak Park Apartments in Oakland’s San Antonio district who rose up against their exploitative landlord. Undocumented immigrants from Mexico, refugees from Cambodia, and faith-based activists who lived at Oak Park for more than a decade all came together to fight back against the negligent landlord and the crummy living conditions he foisted on them. After a three-year battle the tenants won a landmark settlement of nearly a million bucks. My collaborator, Russell Jeung, was one of the live-in activists at Oak Park and was in residence there for ten years. He and I interviewed nearly twenty people, and collected hours of archival footage and reams of documents, photographs and other ephemera from Oak Park and since April we’ve been stitching it all together in the editing studio.

In the two or three weeks leading up to the screenings I was in the studio non-stop from morning to night. I made myself stand up and do triangle pose every so often to battle the muscular damage I was causing by endlessly sitting hunched over my computer screen. I blew out the speakers in my 20-year-old Sony NTSC monitor, no doubt hastening its demise by running it continuously for too many hours on end. Sometime around the end of last week, just before the second of our W-I-P screenings, my neck got a permanent crick in it and I had to take Advil to get to sleep at night. My massage therapist told me that I’d twisted my vertebrae out of alignment from cranking my head in one direction too long (note: she fixed it).

But the movie is shaping up pretty well, and the feedback from both of the screenings was invaluable. After working on the film for so long and so intensively I had very little perspective left, so hearing responses from an impartial audience was great. I got rid of some of the confusing parts, added some more backstory, and otherwise was able to tighten up the movie considerably after hearing what people had to say at the screenings.

Camilo Landau & Carne Cruda sing it

Camilo Landau & Carne Cruda sing it

I also got a big boost from Camilo Landau’s awesome advice and help with the soundtrack. Camilo is a former student of mine (when he was in high school!) who’s now a grown-up and a professional musician and producer. He’s based in Oakland and, along with his uncle Greg Landau, runs Round Whirled Records, which puts out music by a bunch of great local bands including Fuga, Quetzal, Omar Sosa, and Carne Cruda, Camilo’s own combo. Camilo’s been a brilliant resource and I was able to use lots of the music he sent my way on the film’s soundtrack.

We’re in the home stretch with the film, and we have a couple of grant applications out there that will cover some of our postproduction, if we get them (which is always iffy, considering the perennially tough competition for indie movie funding). So we’re also soliciting our social networks and asking family, friends, associates and anyone who wants to support a good cause to contribute to the completion of the movie. We’ve even got fiscal sponsorship, so any donation is tax-deductible. So if anyone wants to help out a worthy project, please think about giving us some support. We’ve got some nifty premiums (t-shirts, dvds, tickets to the premiere) just like public television, though no coffee mugs or tote bags.

Okay, shameless pitch and self-promotion over. Back to regularly scheduled programming soonest.

For donations, here’s the link to the paypal information. You can also send a check—in either case be sure to note that the money is for The Oak Park Story.

UPDATE: Here’s a brief clip from the film:

August 12, 2009 at 6:14 am 7 comments


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