Love anything touched by California is a Place, this included!! I interviewed Drea Cooper, one of the filmmakers behind California is a Place a while ago. Below are some of his answers to our questions, check em out!How did California is a Place get started?My partner Zack and I had worked together in some capacity years ago. He’s a photojournalist by trade, and I make TV commercials, and I’ve done other long-format documentary work. Last summer he moved back into town from India, and we were like, “Hey, let’s get together and start working on some stuff.” We were thinking about what kind of films we wanted to make, and when we started this a year ago, I think we were seeing the new opportunities for short format really taking hold online. The advent of Vimeo has really helped create a platform for short-format work.
Initially, it was just our interest in getting the band back together, so to speak, and working on something. A friend of mine mentioned the foreclosure skater storyin Fresno. Zack and I were like, “Oh, that’s exactly the kind of story we want to be telling.” We hopped on it and called Josh Peacock on a Wednesday, and by Friday, we were in Fresno shooting.How do you select and decide about the topics that you’ve shot so far?Our criteria is pretty simple, find stories in California—sometimes we’re looking to tell topical stories in unexpected ways (like having skaters tell part of the foreclosure story or a lone car salesmen reminisce about the good old days) and we’re always keeping our eyes open for offbeat stories about places and people we’re interested in.We heard about Big Vinny from another used car salesman in Alameda. We had already been shooting a bunch of empty used-car lots in the area but we were still debating how the story was going to play out. We knew the empty lots were interesting for what they represented and, at one point, we were thinking about just creating a visual montage of the lots with a bit of text. Then I saw Big Vinny’s name painted on the window of an abandoned office. Another used car salesmen still in business mentioned Big Vinny and said he was still unemployed and living with his mother. After a month of pleading phone calls and desperate text messages, Big Vinny gave us 45 minutes.
We learned about the scraper bikes as we were researching another story on medical marijuana. After spending the day visiting clinics all over Oakland and coming away with nothing but a heap of frustration and a handful of pamphlets, our marijuana story seemed to be hitting a dead end. While Zack was scanning some of the free reading material from our marijuana clinics, he saw a small piece about Michael Franti’s annual Power to the Peaceful concert. One of the guests that year was the Scraper Bike Team. Once we got on YouTube and saw their video for ‘scraperbikes’ we started chasing them down.What fuels the fire within to keep going on and on?It’s fun. Plain and simple.Amongst your CIAP pieces, which has been your favorite and why? They are so different. But I really enjoyed hanging out on the border for three days with a group of strangers armed with guns.Which do you like better, short doc type stuff, or directing commercials or other projects?Again, they’re all different. And I’ve certainly enjoyed making some commercials. But at the end of the day, the California series is what I enjoy most. Plus we don’t have an ad agency or client telling us what we can and can’t do. We just do what feels right for the films in CIAP.What are your plans for CIAP’s future or even your future outside of CIAP? To keep making films. :)Generally, what do you see as the future of documentary film?I think with films like Exit Through the Gift Shop we’re seeing the line between fact and fiction become even more difficult to discern…. which makes documentary that much more compelling and complicated of a genre to work in.Lastly, any advice for any up and coming film students looking to get into documentary type projects?Number #1 make make make!!!! Go out and shoot shoot shoot shoot. Make as much as you can. You don’t have to show it all to people, nor be proud, but just keep making making making and developing your own style and point of view!