“Once upon a time, Fresno was the California Dream. Own a car. Own a house. Own a pool. Everyone wanted it and the wonderful world of credit made it all possible. But now, with the foreclosure monster running wild, the dream is dry. Thousands of pools are festering in the hot Central Valley sun. For most people this is tragic. But for some, it’s an opportunity.”
California is a Place amplifies a certain California wavelength -- a mood, a look, a vibe. When filmmaker Drea Cooper and photographer Zackary Canepari decided to make a short documentary, they found their way to Fresno to shoot a skate scene that had emerged from a wasteland of abandoned pools. Unlike the Z Boys, who first skated empty pools in the severe drought of the 1970s, these skaters find their pools behind foreclosed houses. This documentary short, Cannonball, is the first in a series that has since played at Sundance and earned a massive fan following on Vimeo.
Below, Zachary Canepari talks about his transition from shooting stills to shooting video, what Vimeo has done for online video, and what's next for the series.
Watch more from California Is a Place.
The Atlantic: Are you both products of California yourselves?
Zackary Canepari: Yes and no. Drea was born in Hawaii but grew up in Alameda, near Oakland. And I was born in Boston but moved to San Diego when I was 12 years old. Not quite native but surely veterans.
The cinematography of California Is a Place is super lush and each shot is so carefully composed — your background as a photographer seems to play a large part in shaping the look and feel of the series. How did you make the transition to shooting video? How did your approach to storytelling evolve?
Honestly, it was pure luck. As a photographer, I needed to update my photo kit for work so I naturally picked up the new Canon 5D when it was released. It was months later before I shot any video with it. A friend of mine just reminded me that we were snowboarding in Kashmir and I was outside one night, shooting video of the snow falling. At the time, I was blown away. I might have had a few too many adult beverages but that was truly the first time that I really saw the potential of video. Before that, I was mostly uninterested. Two-and-a-half years later I'm more of a filmmaker than a photographer.
In the past couple of years, Vimeo and DSLR video have aligned to bring online video to a new level -- good enough to make it an attractive medium for photojournalists and documentary filmmakers, and good enough to let a particular story cast a spell over an audience. Has either helped shape the development of California Is a Place? (If you don’t want to talk cameras, I understand, even though I am super curious about what you shoot with.)
You're right, talking cameras isn't my favorite but in this case, you are absolutely right. The 5D and Vimeo have created a perfect storm for independent filmmakers. Before the 5D it was nearly impossible to make films that were cheap and beautiful. The technology just wasn’t there. And Vimeo has proven itself as the perfect antidote to YouTube. Not only is it the best online player we have seen, the Vimeo community tends to be very thoughtful and considerate and engaging. And now with the new Final Cut Pro X, it'll just be that much easier for people to make quality looking films. Obviously, storytelling is another skill all together so whether this is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen. But the 5D and Vimeo have been game changers, no doubt about it.
Will you continue to work on the series? Do you have any new subjects on the horizon?
Oh man, I'd love to. For me, it's really a great model of storytelling. The work is really fun and I am generally excited about the stories we are telling. I went back to shoot more stills with the Aquadettes just last night for no other reason than I love shooting and they are a fun group. But yeah, eventually, we'll probably move on to something else. We do already have another California film in the can and another one in the works so we aren't done yet.