Saturday, March 19, 2016

Kinky Sex and the Dream of a Regional Film Community in SF Fulfilled

Note: you have to get to the final third of this post before you get to the part about kinky sex, and while I have tried to write something that is safe for work, that might be debatable.

Suppose a local community achieved an incredibly difficult goal, to become a regional film center, but did not realize it perhaps because it came in an unexpected form?

I made my first trip to SF for many years and tested my theory with friends who lived there, who knew something about the history of filmmaking and related arts in SF. I am not entirely sure what my friends thought of my theory. Some may have been amused, and some were definitely not amused, but I am going to try my theory on you in this post.

For many, many years there has been a dream to create in San Francisco a regional alternative to the Los Angeles film industry and community. I can not tell you for certain when this dream first came into existence, but it was probably in the early 1960s or maybe even earlier. Anyway, it was before my time.

The hope, as I understand it, was not to supplant LA which was considered to be unbelievably crass and commercial, but to have a smaller film community that expressed in some way the culture and belief systems of SF, had its own style, and yet allowed artists and technicians to earn a living and express themselves in the cinematic arts.

When I first became aware of this vision, there was already efforts to achieve this goal, although everything was still in a very modest form. American Zoetrope had been founded by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas. George was very successful from Star Wars (1977) and had founded Skywalker Sound, Editdroid was a work in progress, and ILM had moved from Van Nuys in Los Angeles to San Rafael.

Independent film from SF was having one of its periodic moments in the limelight and among these films was the very appreciated Chan is Missing (1982) by director Wayne Wang. The film was shot for very little money in SF's Chinatown and I saw it at Filmex.

So lets try to quantify the scope of this community in 1982 for purposes of comparison with the present time.

Colossal Pictures like all such entities would vary in size but perhaps at its largest might be about 100 people. ILM was perhaps a few hundred when working on Empire Strikes Back (1980) and was presumably about the same size or a little larger when working on Revenge/Return of the Jedi (1983). Pixar was certainly less than 100 people. A variety of other independents and experimental filmmakers who worked in the city perhaps added up to another few hundred. So a very rough estimate of those whose profession was the cinematic arts in any form in the greater Bay Area might be perhaps 700 or so people. Maybe even a few more if we include those teaching in the various schools, independent animators, people who lived in the Bay Area but worked mostly in LA, and so forth. I am deliberately leaving out the Game Industries and what we used to call Interactive Multimedia as that seems to be a different part of the entertainment industry, just as the music industry is a different part of the entertainment industry.

So now lets fast forward to today and see where we are and what surprises we might find.

First of all, Pixar is a gigantic success in Emeryville, with a fabulous lot, interesting buildings and perhaps 1,500 people on the full-time payroll. Second, ILM has moved from San Rafael to the Presidio and while it varies in size depending on the work, can probably be estimated to be about 700-1000 people at any one time. Phil Tippet Studios is perhaps 50 people. Although Colossal Pictures is no longer in business, there are many other people working in the modern equivalent of advertising and motion graphics in the Bay Area, many of them in-house at the various agencies and technology companies. It is hard for me to estimate how many people this may be, but probably it is at least in the range of 200 people and possibly many more. I am not entirely sure where we should fit the various game developers into this, nor am I sure what size they would be, but many hundreds of people of various skills. And of course there are many independent animators, filmmakers, sound designers, graphic designers and so forth who live and work in this community, some of them for the cinematic art forms, some more for the internet, others for games and so forth. Skywalker Sound still exists and there are various post production houses as well. American Zoetrope is still with us and the Bay Area still has a healthy roster of those who are less mainstream and more experimental in nature.

There is certainly a lot of ambiguity here, but Pixar and ILM alone add up to about 2,500 people so it would be perhaps 3,500 people and possibly quite a few more.

I think this is very impressive. But now we get to the part of the story that was a surprise to my friends, but it really should not have been. You see, there is another pillar of employment in production located in the Bay Area and while I do not know all that much about them, I know enough to respect that they are keeping many hundreds of people employed in making films of a certain sort and are doing very well financially by it. On top of that they have rented an important building in SF, helped to restore it, and have turned it into a center of production capability called The Armory Studios, based as you might guess at the San Francisco Armory.

And on top of that, they produce many short films a week, for distribution on the Internet and each of these films stars actors, actresses and models in short narrative films that certainly can be said to express a somewhat unique SF and Bay Area aesthetic and lifestyle choice.

Technically these two images are not from Kink.Com but are based on a social event held at the Armory. I am using them here because more authentic images from are very much NSFW.

Although there are several corporate entities involved, the main production company, or perhaps the umbrella brand that then points to the individual sub-genres of kink is, logically, Kink.Com has produced literally hundreds and hundreds of short films in a variety of genres of sexually oriented films usually with a kinky, S&M, B&D aesthetic. Although sex positive fantasy films are a bit controversial, some would say they are pornography, and not all Feminists and fellow travelers approve, they certainly seem to have a very positive attitude towards the whole genre. I noticed, not looking all too closely, that for example they would have an interview section after the main film where the actors and actresses would chat with each other about their experience and their feelings about each other after tying each other up and ... um, well, doing things to each other. It all seems very healthy to me if a bit specialized.

Of course, this being SF, they are very ecumenical in their sexual preferences featuring, in different brands, male/male, male/female, female/female, male/female/other and every other possible variation between humans, usually who are involved in a variety of complicated scenarios involving ropes, harnesses, and so forth. From what I have heard (and to the extent I have checked, which is not too much, or so I say), they seem to produce very high quality films, employing very attractive men and women in a reasonable SF aesthetic, very sex positive, even when people are tying each other up, and so forth. Now I could be wrong about this because I have not looked too closely (am I protesting too much) but you are welcome, when not at work of course, to see for yourself.

The point is that this is no small operation. This group is obviously doing very well, have done well for years, and generate a lot of media all the time. I would not begin to guess how many people they keep employed full or part time, but certainly it is in the hundreds.  Probably most people are employed on a part time basis, but they would certainly include makeup, costumes, a rope or bondage specialist, a cinematographer and probably a lighting assistant, a director, and of course the stars which includes at least two people, and an editor.

Without doubt they are a big success, and without doubt they are part of the thriving SF / Bay Area “film” community, one which is not only doing well, but in many ways may be healthier than the similar production communities in Southern California which has been, they tell me, devastated in recent years.

The Armory Studios

The Drill Court at Armory Studios
American Zoetrope

Colossal Pictures

Chan is Missing (1982) on IMDB

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