Hilary Goldberg and Shani Heckman look up at the clouds with extreme dislike. “If only,” says Goldberg slowly, “those clouds would go.”
“Right,” says Heckman. “Move.”
The clouds keep blocking the sun. Hanging out, like they can’t hear anything at all. Goldberg, who was directing a movie scene before the clouds arrived, sighs.
Today, a story that happened in San Francisco is actually being shot in San Francisco. The book “Valencia,” Michelle Tea’s memoir of her 25th year in the wilder, boozier and cheaper Mission of the late ’90s, is being made into a movie in an unconventional way. Each of the book’s 21 chapters are being shot as a five-minute short film. By a different director. Featuring different actors. The films will tour together as a feature for a year, after which point the rights to each film will revert back to its director.
It’s an interesting choice for the book that Tea has publicly expressed more reservations about than any of her others. “Valencia is a bug trapped in emotional amber,” she wrote in a new introduction to the book, eight years after it was first published. “You have to believe the story is true to put it on paper. At least I do. But for normal, healthy, non-writer people, the way you view your life ideally shifts with time, and perspective.” In this version, perspective will shift. Every five minutes.
At Chapter 5’s location, a tidy street off of La Lengua, the crew walks carefully around the trash that was brought in and scattered to make the spot more believable. One crew member is off to the side, drinking out of a thermos full of herbal tea next to a bottle of Balvenie scotch — rejected by Heckman, who is both producer and art director, for being “too nice.”
Tanya Wischerath, who plays Michelle Tea, sits patiently on the stoop while the camera crew tries to figure out how to light her. Machete Mendías and Jaq Schmitz stand off to the side, jigging a plastic baggie of pretend mushrooms. Or a plastic baggie of real mushrooms, pretending to be hallucinogenic ones. Chapter 5 has some drug use.
“I wanted to pay homage to the high school hallucinogenic experience,” says Goldberg, on why she chose the trippiest chapter. Like many people who grew up in Miami, Florida, she may or may not have dropped acid at Disney World.
The clouds begin to budge. They’re one of the big reasons the movie industry never settled in San Francisco. Back in the days when films were just getting started, San Francisco had all the good actors on the West Coast, but everything was too variable: light, weather. Oakland was a serious contender, but then a little something called Los Angeles came along, and that’s what we call history.
The clouds, though, do clear. All on their own.