Friday, November 14, 2008

My short film: 575 Castro St.

575 Castro St. from FilmInFocus on Vimeo.

a film by Jenni Olson
(2008) USA 7 mins. HD

575 Castro St. reveals the play of light and shadow upon the walls of the Castro Camera Store set for Gus Van Sant’s film Milk. These mundane shots are almost bereft of movement and sound. So quiet, so still. All the better to showcase the range of emotions evoked by Harvey Milk’s words on the soundtrack. The audio track is an edited down version of the 13-minute audio cassette that Harvey Milk recorded in his camera shop on the evening of Friday, November 18, 1977 (a few weeks after his election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors which made him one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States). Labeled simply: “In-Case” the tape was to be played, “in the event of my death by assassination.”

The sensibility of 575 Castro St. hearkens back to the style of the dozens of Super 8 gay short films of the ‘70s that passed through Harvey Milk’s hands to be processed and developed at the Castro Camera Store.

575 Castro St. is now available for viewing on the Focus Features Milk Website (please go watch and be generous with your comments).

And look for 575 Castro St. coming soon to a film festival near you (hopefully). I'll be posting screening info and such on my 575 Castro St. blogsite very soon.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

World Premiere at the Castro

It was a star-studded, politico-packed evening at San Francisco's Castro Theatre last night for the World Premiere of Milk.

In a scene that would have made Harvey Milk proud, the street outside the theater was lined with hundreds of No on Prop 8 activists (placards in hand) who provided a fitting, powerful backdrop to the red carpet scene — with their steady "Vote No on 8" chants providing the backdrop for all the media coverage outside the event.

The film's star, Sean Penn (pictured above) invigorated the already boisterous crowd by shaking hands and showing his support for the cause — echoing his portrayal of Milk in the film, the ever-gregarious community leader.

Following the Hollywood-style arrivals, the sell-out crowd was greeted by SF Mayor Gavin Newsom who gave an electrifying introduction proclaiming: "San Francisco doesn't just tolerate diversity, we celebrate it!"

There was not a dry eye in the house as the lights came up two hours later and the crowd headed off for a festive celebration at City Hall. Fittingly, the very last Thank You of the film's credits went to local filmmaker Rob Epstein for his Academy Award winning 1983 documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

MILK production designer on the sets

Bill Groom on "Milk" from FilmInFocus on Vimeo.

This is a nice little piece that gives some background on the production design of MILK. It is particularly exciting to see all the stuff about the interior of Castro Camera!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Do you have a Harvey Milk story?

The FilmInFocus official MILK website is gathering community stories as part of the official MILK website. Go share a Harvey story or a coming out story, etc. as follows:
"When Harvey Milk stood up to make a difference, he inspired future generations to stand up for themselves. We invite you to join our MILK community and tell us who (or what) inspires you to make a difference in the world. Whose bravery moved you? Who stood up to his/her fears and let you face your own? Who proudly told everyone who he or she really was inside? Tells us your story of everyday bravery, about coming out yourself, or about how someone you loved came out. Celebrate the Harvey Milk in all of us."

Share your story now.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Harvey Milk Lives

No better time than right now to enjoy Paul VanDeCarr's moving and informative personal essay, Harvey Milk Lives about the production of Gus Van Sant's MILK.

Celebrate Harvey's Birthday: May 22nd

This coming May 22nd would have been Harvey Milk's 78th birthday. Mayor Gavin Newsom and scads of SF luminaries will celebrate the occasion by unveiling the long-awaited Milk Memorial statue at City Hall that evening. Find more info on the website and if you can't make it to the ceremony please go ahead and make a donation to the Milk Memorial Project (they're still raising money).

MILK Production Still Released

Entertainment Weekly released the first production still from MILK this week. Does he look like Harvey Milk? Well, not exactly. But there are other candid shots that leaked out online during shooting that seem more convincing (tho' one witty queen on commented that in the shots of him after he grows his beard out he looks more and more like Pete Townsend).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Milk Wraps

Nice piece in today's SF Chronicle about the final shoot on the movie.

Friday, February 8, 2008

"Making Milk" YouTube video

Somebody called Partridge's Garage shot this stealthy little "Making Milk" video last week on Castro Street. Including a nice peek at Sean Penn as Harvey Milk and Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones and Cleve Jones standing around being himself.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Cruisin’ The Castro & Remembering Milk

Gus Van Sant’s Milk has been shooting on Castro Street for several days now, even making the front page of the Chronicle on Wednesday. Finally unable to resist the pull of the Castro any longer I dash out of the house at 11am this morning to go see for myself where the action is. It’s a warm, clear morning. The freshly painted red and white Castro Theatre marquee pops into view as I drive over the crest of Castro Street just around 22nd.

I park at 17th and Sanchez and walk up 17th Street to Castro. I gaze wistfully into Twin Peaks, the bar where all the old-timers hang out (also offensively dubbed: “The Glass Coffin” in reference to the age of the clientele) and I wonder how many of those guys were actually around 30 years ago, probably knew Harvey Milk, etc.

I stroll slowly, mindfully down Castro Street past all the re-created vintage storefronts: Double Rainbow, a pretend real estate office, the old Eureka Valley Savings. Down past Cliff’s Hardware and A Different Light, which have not been made over. I cross 18th and watch the guys removing the huge Bank of America plastic lighted sign from the roof of the big corner building in preparation for this weekend’s shooting. I stop into Castro Video to say hello to store manager Richard Rovatti. Richard reminisces about his memories of his first visit to the Castro back in 1979 when he saw a Bette Davis double feature at the Castro Theatre. I usually stop in to visit Richard every few weeks and we lament the ongoing demise of the neighborhood as the storefronts continue to go dark – The Patio Restaurant is gone, the famous old rainbow colored steps, the camera store on the corner at 18th. And it’s not just simple, whiny nostalgia. It’s a genuine concern for the viability of the neighborhood — which continues to weather the blows of old businesses leaving without new businesses moving in to take their place. The number of empty storefronts in the Castro today is particularly depressing in contrast to this nostalgic sense of it as such a vibrant place in the era of Harvey Milk.

I proceed up towards 19th stopping to get some cash at the Wells Fargo ATM and peeking into the Castro Camera Store that has been recreated for the shoot right there on the spot of Harvey Milk’s original Castro Camera. The door is guarded by a woman on a folding chair who is so busy chatting on her cell phone I could probably just walk right in and look around but I resist the urge. The Anchor Oyster Bar next door has never stopped looking vintage – no makeover needed there. And then the title company (which has a sandwich board out front saying it is still open for business) has been lovingly transformed into the psychedelic Aquarius Records.

It’s Friday so I cross the street to pick up a loaf of challah from Buffalo Foods (just across from the HRC Store! What would Harvey think of HRC?!) and proceed back down the other side of the street past the freshly scavenged vintage neon McConnely Liquor Store sign. I picture Harvey Milk dashing across Castro Street for a bottle of something or other – the liquor store being pretty much directly across from Castro Camera. I picture him inside his store. I picture him recording the cassette tape he made on the evening of November 18th, 1977 – just weeks after he was elected to the Board of Supervisors, becoming the nation’s first openly gay elected official. On this tape, which is about 13 minutes long, he outlines his wishes for who should succeed him as Supervisor in the event of his assassination. He talks about his vision for the gay movement. And his desire that when he is killed there should be no religious services. And then he embarks on a passionate indictment of the Church and religious zealots like Anita Bryant who have been: “playing gymnastics with the Bible.”

“I’d turn over in my grave if there were any kind of religious ceremony,” he commands angrily into the microphone. “No. No services whatsoever. If anything, maybe just play that tape of [conservative Senator John] Briggs and I, which is somewheres in the back in the file cabinet [at the camera store]. Just play that tape of Briggs and I over and over again. So people know — what an evil man he is. So people know — where the seeds of hate, come from… So that people know — what the future’s gonna bring if they’re not careful. That’s all. That’s all I ask.”

I was just listening to the recording yesterday and it is just amazing to hear him – talking about himself in the past tense, really knowing that he was so likely to be assassinated.

How do I happen to have access to this morbid historical artifact, you’re wondering. During the final sound mix for the DVD release of my film, The Joy of Life I happened to be in touch with Harvey’s friend Dan Nicoletta about the tape, which seemed so clearly something that should be properly preserved. I asked Dan to hook me up with Harvey’s attorney Walter Caplan who has had the tape all these years. With the tape in hand, I went to my sound engineer, Jim Lively, and in the name of preserving one of the most chilling documents of San Francisco history Jim spent several hours making a digital preservation master as well as CD reference copies for Walter and Dan and Rob Epstein (The Times of Harvey Milk), and also one for the LGBT Historical Society.

In front of The Body Shop I run into my favorite punk-rocker novelist friend Lynnee Breedlove who reminisces about having been in the City and out since the mid-70s. She tells me about the feature script she’s working on (based on her novel, Godspeed) and I feel the pang of resentment that I’ve been feeling ever since the announcement that the Milk movie was really finally happening. It is a familiar, unrestrainable bitterness, envy really, towards the white gay men who somehow manage (not that it’s not a struggle for them as well) to pull together the resources to make big movies about gay white men. And I think: I want to see Lynee’s lesbo/trannyboy movie get that kind of budget and those kind of resources behind it. I want to see Stone Butch Blues and Rubyfruit Jungle and the story of any number of important lesbian historical figures…

I cross 18th Street again and head up to see the re-created Toad Hall in the space where Daddy’s is, just across from the Castro Theatre. I half-heartedly snap a picture before heading back down to get a decaf triple short mocha from the Starbucks at 18th Street that is generally referred to around these parts as Bearbucks for the density of large furry gay men who congregate on the sidewalk outside.

The Bearbucks used to be a Pasqua, part of small chain of California cafes that was bought out by Starbucks as a stealthy way of invading a neighborhood with zoning ordinances that wouldn’t allow a national chain to open a new store. So there was a period of time where it was this kind of hybrid thing between Pasqua and Starbucks. I have never really understood how they finally got away with coming fully out of the closet as a Starbucks. They did a similar thing at the Mariposa and Bryant store – opening it as some other restaurant and then eventually revealing themselves in their true colors.

I get my coffee and sit down as Emile Hirsch (or one of those hot young guys in the movie - or probably just some cute extra) walks in carrying his rolled up baby blue script. He spends a considerable amount of time dumping sugar in his Vente something or other while a hushed awareness of his presence echoes across the café.

This particular Starbucks invariably makes me feel weepy. A general sense of melancholy pervades the space. I feel the ghosts of all the gay men who should still be here. And then there’s my curiosity about the men I see around me, the men who survived. I want to hear their stories. I feel their stories in my heart without them having to tell me. And so I am always strangely on the verge of tears when I’m in there. It’s even worse today.

I walk back up Castro and drop into A Different Light where I chat briefly with noted African American gay photographer and former Frameline board member Duane Cramer about the unlikelihood of much diversity being on view in the film. We have a moment fantasizing about a Bayard Rustin biopic and agree that his story really would make a terrifically entertaining motion picture.

Moments later I am standing in front of the gelato place chatting with Cav Wine Bar owner (and sometime lesbian filmmaker) Pamela Busch, who lives at 19th and Castro and says she has been watching the shooting since last week. We’re free-associating from Harvey to Obama. I express my feeling of depression about the impending anti-gay marriage ballot measure (the “National Organization for Marriage” has just started gathering signatures to put it on the November ballot). And I can’t help thinking how twenty years ago Harvey Milk was fighting the same strain of gay-hate as we are today. Just weeks before he was assassinated he led the victory against the Briggs Initiative, Senator John Briggs’ ballot measure that would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in California’s public school system. Here’s hoping the intelligence of California voters prevails again as it did in 1978 when the Briggs Initiative was resoundingly defeated. Here’s hoping... And a lot of hard work and cash. Click here to donate some money to Equality California now or to find out other ways you can help.

Just as I’m saying goodbye to Pamela, legendary gay porn star and photographer Peter Berlin walks past.

Peter and I walk slowly back up this side of the street to 17th sharing our mutual feelings of melancholy. He tells me he wasn’t very politically aware back in the ‘70s. He had other things going on in his life. But his eyes tear up as he looks over at Toad Hall and casts his memory back to the days. We stand there side by side, he puts his arm around my shoulder with the instant familiarity we seemed to have in the moment we first met, at Eric Smith’s New Year’s Day brunch just over a year ago. There is this accelerated intimacy that happens with celebrities when they sense you are someone who is NOT trying to get something from them.

“Do you think it will be a good movie?” he asks.

“Yes, I do,” I say. And I really think it will be.

We both fight back a tear and say goodbye. And Peter walks off towards Market Street, crossing 17th against the light as all the good local queers know to do. While the tourists stand at the curb and wait.

I can’t help but think of Brokeback Mountain – as a huge gay-themed film that impacted mainstream audiences while at the same time resonating profoundly with gay audiences. Milk looks poised for a similar kind of impact given the team behind the camera and the cast in front of it. Perhaps they’ll finish in time for a June premiere at the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, which is held just up the street from Castro Camera —where Harvey helped process all the rag-tag Super 8 homo movies that launched the first “San Francisco Gay Film Festival” the very year before he was assassinated. Godspeed.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Towleroad's Got Milk

Okay, I admit it. I totally can't keep up with all the new developments as the film is shooting in the Castro at this very moment. So, to ease my conscience I'll supply you with a source that can keep up. Here's the link to all of the Milk movie coverage at Towleroad.

Also, take a look at all the great on set photos (including the really lovely one right here, of Sean Penn in the starring role capturing Harvey Milk's amazing smile) at!

Do check my little Harvey Milk Google news feed over there to the right as well for all kinds of recent Milk movie news.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Be Part of Queer Film History

Read on to see how you can be an extra in MILK!

from the website:

"On Monday night, February 4th and Friday night, February 8th, the feature film MILK (directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk) will be re-creating three 1970's marches through the Castro.

We are looking for volunteers to appear in the these marches in the film. THERE ARE NO AUDITIONS. IF YOU SIGN-UP ON THIS SITE AND SHOW UP, YOU WILL BE USED. All ages, races and genders are welcome. But, you MUST be 18 or over to participate.

Filming will take place from 7pm - midnight on Monday night at Castro & Market and from 9pm - 3am on Friday night at Market & Franklin. Come either or both nights.

As a thank you for participating, we will host a screening for the marchers of the documentary THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK on Monday, February 4th at the Castro Theater at 4:30pm, with introductions by the filmmaker, Rob Epstein, Cleve Jones, Gus Van Sant, and members of the cast. The filming will begin immediately after the screening."

ADDENDUM from January 23rd:
Due to the overwhelming response, the screening and the march on Februrary 4th are now unfortunately full.
We still have some space available for Friday night Feb 8th, and we have added two nights that we could also use you, Wednesday, February the 6th & Tuesday, February the 12th. Both of events will start around 7pm on Castro street.

Click here to see how you can be part of the crowd and get more details on how you're supposed to dress for the occasion!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Lucas Grabeel to play Dan Nicoletta



Jan 18, 2008 Production Start press release



NEW YORK, January 18, 2008 – Production begins next week on location in San Francisco on the biographical drama Milk, to star Academy Award winner Sean Penn as gay-rights icon Harvey Milk for Academy Award-nominated director Gus Van Sant. Joining Mr. Penn in the cast are Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, Victor Garber, Lucas Grabeel, Denis O’Hare, Alison Pill, Stephen Spinella, and James Franco. The announcement was made today by Focus Features president of production John Lyons.

Milk is being produced by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, the Academy Award-winning producers of American Beauty, through The Jinks/Cohen Company. Milk is a co-production between Groundswell Productions and Focus Features, which are also co-financing the film. Milk will be distributed worldwide by Focus.

Executive-producing the film are Groundswell’s Bruna Papandrea, Milk unit production manager Barbara A. Hall, William Horberg, and Dustin Lance Black (Big Love), who wrote the original screenplay. Groundswell CEO Michael London will also serve in a producing capacity.

Harvey Milk (1930-1978) was an activist and politician, and the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in America; in 1977, he was voted to the city supervisors’ board of San Francisco. The following year, both he and the city’s mayor George Moscone were shot to death by another city supervisor, Dan White. Mr. Milk was previously the subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary feature The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), directed by Rob Epstein and produced by Richard Schmiechen. Milk is the first non-documentary feature to explore the man’s life and career.

Mr. Hirsch (who was directed by Mr. Penn in Into the Wild) is portraying Cleve Jones, who was an activist on the front lines with Mr. Milk and who is a historical consultant to Milk. Mr. Brolin (of No Country for Old Men) is cast as Mr. White. Mr. Luna (Y tu mamá también) plays Jack Lira, Mr. Milk’s second lover in the film. Mr. Garber (Alias) is cast as Mayor Moscone. Mr. Grabeel (High School Musical) is portraying Danny Nicoletta, a
friend and supporter of Mr. Milk’s. Tony Award winners Mr. O’Hare and Mr. Spinella are playing, respectively, state senator John Briggs and attorney/city supervisor candidate Rick Stokes. Ms. Pill (Dan in Real Life) is cast as Anne Kronenberg, a close friend and political aide to Mr. Milk, and Mr. Franco (the Spider-Man movies) is portraying Scott Smith, Mr. Milk’s first lover in the film and his campaign manager.

Mr. Lyons said, “Harvey Milk has been an inspiration to a generation. Now, a new generation will hear, and learn from, his story. The caliber of the artists coming together to make this film, entirely in San Francisco, ensures that a hero’s legacy will be respected.”

Focus Features International is handling overseas sales for the movie. Kahli Small, Focus senior vice president, production, is supervising for Mr. Lyons.

Harris Savides, in his fifth feature collaboration with Mr. Van Sant, is the cinematographer on Milk. Bill Groom, whose previous credits include The Pledge (directed by Mr. Penn), is the production designer on the film. Danny Glicker, whose credits include Transamerica and Towelhead, has joined Milk as the costume designer.

Gus Van Sant has directed such films as Mala Noche (a restored version of which was re-released last year), Drugstore Cowboy (which won Best Film and Best Director from the National Society of Film Critics), My Own Private Idaho (which earned him an Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay), To Die For (for which Nicole Kidman won a Golden Globe Award), Good Will Hunting (for which he received a Best Director Oscar nomination), Finding Forrester (which was honored at the 2001 Berlin International Film Festival), Elephant (which won the top prize, the Palme d’Or, at the 2003 Cannes International Film Festival), and Paranoid Park (which will be released in March).

In addition to the aforementioned multi-Oscar-winning American Beauty, Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen have produced films including Tim Burton’s Big Fish; Peyton Reed’s Down with Love; Joseph Ruben’s The Forgotten; and John August’s The Nines. Their producing credits for television include this season’s new hit series Pushing Daisies.

Groundswell Productions is an independent financing and production company, founded by Academy Award-nominated producer Michael London in February 2006, with office headquarters located in Beverly Hills. Groundswell is currently in post-production on Appaloosa, for New Line, with Ed Harris directing and starring opposite Renée Zellweger and Viggo Mortensen; and The Marc Pease Experience, for Paramount Vantage, directed by Todd Louiso and starring Jason Schwartzman and Ben Stiller. This month, Groundswell is world-premiering The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber and based on the Michael Chabon novel, starring Sienna Miller, Peter Sarsgaard, and Nick Nolte, at the Sundance Film Festival; Smart People, directed by Noam Murro and starring Dennis Quaid, Thomas Haden Church, Ellen Page, and Sarah Jessica Parker, will be released by Miramax Films this spring; and The Visitor, a co-production with Participant Productions, from writer/director Tom McCarthy and starring Richard Jenkins, will be released this spring by Overture Films.

Focus Features ( ) is a motion picture production, financing, and worldwide distribution company committed to bringing moviegoers the most original stories from the world’s most innovative filmmakers.

In addition to Milk, current and upcoming Focus Features releases include Joe Wright’s Atonement, winner of 2 Golden Globe Awards including Best Picture [Drama]; Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes, which is world-premiering this week as the Opening-Night film of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival; Bharat Nalluri’s Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, starring Frances McDormand and Amy Adams; Shane Acker’s animated fantasy epic 9, starring Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly; Henry Selick’s 3-D stop-motion animated feature Coraline, starring Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher; Cary Fukunaga’s immigrant thriller Sin Nombre; Joel and Ethan Coen’s Burn After Reading, starring George Clooney, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, and Brad Pitt; writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s new film, tentatively titled The Limits of Control, starring Isaach De Bankolé; and Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, winner of the Best Picture [Golden Lion] Award at the 2007 Venice International Film Festival.
Focus Features is part of NBC Universal, one of the world’s leading media and entertainment companies in the development, production, and marketing of entertainment, news, and information to a global audience. Formed in May 2004 through the combining of NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment, NBC Universal owns and operates a valuable portfolio of news and entertainment networks, a premier motion picture company, significant television production operations, a leading television stations group, and world-renowned theme parks. NBC Universal is 80% owned by General Electric and 20% owned by Vivendi.