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Film Talent in the 'Hood
Cast Celebrates DVD Release After A Year of Celibacy
By Betsy Bannerman
Want to make a movie? You might try Mission District artist Lisa Bostwick's technique. Bostwick drew upon her Noe Valley friends, friends of friends, and a woman she met at a kickboxing class to make her first feature film last year.
Back in 2001, Bostwick was working as a high school art teacher and doing oil paintings on the side. But after a motorcycle accident put her on the couch for several months, she enrolled in a screenwriting class and came up with a unique and very funny script. "It was a goofy chick flick that was in me and just needed a class to bring it out," Bostwick says.
The story was about a sexually promiscuous "knockoff" artist named Lucy, who with the help of her motorcycle mechanic and a Zen botanist--not to mention a Sexual Addicts Anonymous 12-step group--learns to appreciate platonic relationships. Hence the title of the film, A Year of Celibacy.
After briefly shopping the script in Hollywood ("Chances it would get sold were like finding a needle in a haystack"), Bostwick decided to make the film herself. She took classes in filmmaking at the Film Arts Foundation and began shooting on mini-DV (digital video) in the spring of 2001. She did most of the camerawork herself, hired Academy Awardnominated engineer Lemon DeGeorge to do the sound production, and recruited friends and acquaintances to be her actors and crew.
She met the woman who would play Lucy, Duboce Triangle resident Holly Zoffoli, when both were taking a kickboxing class at Gold's Gym. "Holly is zany and outgoing, and kind of fearless," says Bostwick, a trait that was a prerequisite for Lucy, who is "very confident with her sensuality."
Zoffoli had not acted before, and she declined to be completely nude in the sex scenes ("I wasn't sure I wanted my real nakedness out there," Zoffoli says), but she wound up feeling comfortable in the role. In fact, she says, "Some of the meat of the original script came from personal dramas in my life. We all identify with Lucy, one way or another."
Bostwick has been friends with Clipper Street resident Charlie O'Hanlon for about seven years. At first she approached him just to use his motorcycle repair shop on 19th Street as a venue. Then she realized he'd be a match for the down-to-earth bike mechanic who is Lucy's confidante.
O'Hanlon, an artist as well (his motorcycle-sprocket-table sculpture appears in the film), agreed he was a natural for the part. "With my motorcycle customers, it's sometimes like I'm their therapist," he laughs. His character's name was Pete in the original script, but since O'Hanlon's shop coveralls all said "Charlie," Bostwick just changed the character's name.
Then she landed 23rd Street resident Jonathan Burstein to play Yoshi, the mild-mannered yet bombastic Zen gardener whom Lucy disastrously falls for. "Yoshi's kind of a know-it-all environmentalist," says Bostwick.
Burstein has been in TV commercials and plays, and next year will appear in another low-budget film, Carma Crunch, out of New York. Bostwick also got Burstein's housemate, music producer and sax player Paul Scriver, to score the film. She liked the music he had written, played, and sung in his (now-defunct) San Francisco band Neomythic.
Since some of her cast members (there are other subplots in the film) had minimal acting experience and since Bostwick was concerned about having them memorize reams of dialogue, she decided to let the actors rely mostly on improvisation.
O'Hanlon found the technique challenging. "No matter how many takes there are, you have to put yourself in the situation like you're there for the first time," he notes. Burstein adds, "A lot of great movies are improvised, like Christopher Guest's A Mighty Wind. But it was brave of Lisa as a first-time director to let us do it. It did seem to work a lot better."
The shooting took only two months--weekends only--with the crew moving from a café in the Haight to a penthouse on Russian Hill and from Java Beach on the ocean to a night scene on Twin Peaks. Bostwick fronted all the costs of filming, drying up her savings and the income from her teaching job at Drew School in Pacific Heights. By the time the film was finished, the budget was about $27,000.
With the expense of equipment rental, the time constraints for her cast and crew, and the number of scenes needing to be shot (the film ended up at 74 minutes), time was precious. Bostwick limited scene takes to just three or four.
Still, the cast all seemed to enjoy the experience, even if they weren't getting paid ("not in the budget," Bostwick says ruefully). Particularly memorable was a camping scene at Point Reyes.
"We had to eat this horrible dehydrated camping food," Bostwick remembers, "and there was all this smoke from the campfire." Then right when Lucy was to voice some deep personal truths to Yoshi, a skunk appeared. "He didn't spray, but he did disrupt everything," Bostwick says. "We were all panicked. We had to wait forever for him to go away."
O'Hanlon's favorite scene involved carving turns on Twin Peaks, with Bostwick on the back of his bike shooting Lucy's stunt rider on her bike. "I was amazed at how steady the camera was," O'Hanlon says. (Bostwick confesses that she cut out all the shots that were shaky or had O'Hanlon's hands in them.)
Burstein, who's also a realist painter (he currently has a show at the Muddy Waters Café), says he loved the way art was used symbolically in the film. Lucy paints copies of masterpieces, but through her mentor begins to experiment with producing original work. "You think Lucy is shallow at the beginning because she is just plagiarizing," says Burstein, "but by the end you think organic, natural Yoshi might be the shallow one."
Bostwick puts it this way: "When Lucy tones down her life, she becomes a better motorcycle rider, a better painter, a deeper person. It's not a quantum leap, more like a small growth spurt."
The best part was the enthusiastic reception that A Year of Celibacy got at two standing-room-only screenings last year at the Red Vic moviehouse. Audiences raved about the spontaneity, the humor, and the "good pokes at modern California life." Now several film festivals are looking at the film, and the DVD should be in video stores by mid-June.
As for Bostwick, she says she had a great time making her movie. "I spent a lot of money, but any filmmaker knows you do it because you love it. It's so much fun, so creative, so challenging."
She confesses that distribution is the biggest hurdle. But she says, "I have to do it. I owe it to the work, I owe it to the cast and crew. And now that I have a good movie, I can confidently try to raise money for another one!" h
A Year of Celibacy will have a benefit screening/DVD release party at Battery Street Digital Space, 950 Battery St., at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 14. The event is open to the public and costs $6 to $10. The DVD will be available in June at First Choice and Noe Valley Video on 24th Street and Video Wave on Castro.