by Nellie Bowles
Carrie Bradshaw, touring New York cupcake joints, never shopped for shoes in San Francisco. Hannah Horvath, HBO’s latest single young female, hasn’t moped around any of our coffee shops. And Jess Day, Fox’s quirky Los Angeles hipster, doesn’t come north to play her hand bells.
Judging from the small screen, you would think San Francisco has a dearth of young singles.
Ryan Lynch, a Pixar story writer in Cole Valley, is hoping to change that with “SanFranLand,” her new online show that follows three single young women as they enter modern San Franciscan adulthood – a world full of burlesque clubs, semi-legal pot, raw diets, parking tickets, GPS-enabled dating services, and new money.
“Considering how many young people are coming to San Francisco, it seemed strange there still wasn’t a show about us,” she says. “We’re kind of forgotten. Which is crazy, because being young here is so fun.”
Produced with funding from Pixar and Kickstarter (their $20,000 campaign starts Sunday), this might finally change. “SanFranLand” is run by a crew of 30 who are employees or friends with employees at Pixar and Lucas Films.
They’ve been filming after work (into the wee hours of the morning) and over 12-hour-day weekends. Their raunchy, ambitious first season of 12 weekly episodes is scheduled to debut this spring.
The show follows Bobbi Winter as she moves from Georgia – where she’s fired from her job and finds her boyfriend wearing a diaper and cheating on her – to San Francisco. Looking up an old friend, she moves in with two roommates – Tara “Taranado” Walker, a preschool teacher/DJ, and Coco Rocco, a bisexual, vegan entrepreneur. A burlesque bar off Market Street, a mansion in the Haight, and a pot club in Oakland are the three settings.
“There are so many of us moving here and growing up here, dating, finding jobs, I thought someone should capture it, show it through fresh eyes like a newcomer,” says Lynch. “Bobbi, this totally sweet Southern girl who’s never done anything wild, lets us showcase the spontaneity, the quirkiness. And it all came from experience.”
Web series, which are basically TV shows that are broadcast only online, are becoming increasingly prominent. “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” was directed by Joss Whedonand featured Neil Patrick Harris. “Portlandia,” starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, began as a Web series before being picked up by IFC Productions, and Lena Dunham‘s HBO-produced “Girls” is based on her popular Web series, “Tight Shots.”
A lanky blond with flat-ironed bangs and a Southern accent, Lynch came to San Francisco from a small town in Georgia to study for a master’s degree in film directing at the Academy of Art University. After graduating, she started at Pixar as a production assistant. Today, she lives “the San Francisco dream” – in a well-furnished apartment, newly married to a successful entrepreneur, and recently led the writing for Pixar’s blockbuster “Brave,” about a fiercely independent young woman.
“San Francisco needs heroines – strong, independent women who hang out at our bars and shop at our vintage stores,” she says.
Though the cast and crew is large (25 extras come in for the bar scenes), the show’s budget has been minimal. Some funding has come from Pixar, which encourages employees’ side projects through programs like Pixar Film Co-op.
There has also been help from local businesses. The Monarch nightclub will serve as a location and provide cocktails. Upper Playground is lending costumes. And Futures Salon in Berkeley is doing the hair styling and coloring. The house where the three girls live belongs to Lynch’s art collector friend, Mimi Mayer, and features murals by Jet Martinez.
Wainer and Lynch, both 35, met when they first moved to San Francisco and started collaborating on projects soon after. Their previous collaboration – “Real Men Go Hunting,” a 15-minute film about young men reclaiming their manhood by hunting – went to Cannes. The success inspired Wainer, a wetland ecologist, to start her own small production company, Miss Mott Media.
“The city isn’t really set up to be easy for filmmakers,” says Wainer. “But it can be done, and it obviously should. Sometimes you just have to force yourself in a little – and we’re both pretty good at that.”
“Ryan is so confident and persuasive – she can manage to talk people into doing things they never thought they’d do for anyone,” says Jill Brooke, the board president.
“For a San Francisco-based production of any kind, the show’s crew is large, and it’s even larger because there are so many people on set who just want to be there and be part of it,” she says.
“It’s appealing because we finally see ourselves represented. The last show filmed here was about those Marina kids doing startups in Palo Alto. But that’s not us – we’re smarter, quirkier, funnier. Ryan catches that, gets all the details, and she’s hilarious.”
At a shoot one December morning in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood, Lynch is underdressed for the cold and standing in the middle of the street wearing an orange traffic vest. She yells “action.” A fake (but very real-looking) parking enforcement officer drives toward the camera. Bobbi, in a nightshirt and Uggs on her first morning in San Francisco, runs outside to stop him but it’s too late – street cleaning, one ticket. She didn’t curb her tires – two tickets. “Scene!” Lynch shouts.
“Tickets,” says Lynch, stepping away from the camera, “are as San Francisco as sex.”
The cop will later become Bobbi’s main love interest. The costume designer carries a Ziploc bag of morning-after pills and bobby pins – “for the next scene,” she says.
They break for lunch, and one of the characters from the next day’s shoot shows up to steal a bite of food. Calum Grant is a neighbor in the Haight and a professional improv comic. He’ll be playing a medical marijuana distributor at Oaksterdam who becomes Bobbi’s life adviser.
The three main characters are joking about their Spanx and comparing cutlets (bra inserts). Lunch is rushed because Ashley Chaney, who plays Bobbi, has to get to the Dreamworks holiday party. The other leads – Chrissy Mazzeo and Liz Anderson – go over the script and hand-drawn storyboards for their next scene.
Props from Lynch’s and Wainer’s own lives permeate the scenes. A 3-foot-wide disco ball Lynch accidentally ordered from eBay as a birthday present serves as the mystical fairy godmother, Sheila, throughout the show. Some of their costumes are culled from Lynch’s and Wainer’s wardrobes.
“The sets are all organic places that already exist in the city – like Monarch. But the shots are mostly controlled, with actors,” says Wainer, who navigates what she says is a cumbersome film permit process. “Then some shots are just in-the-moment guerrilla-style, with people we just find on the street.”
They don’t necessarily want to be picked up by a network.
“There’s a freedom, content-wise, to staying online-only,” says Lynch. “Though, at the same time, 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. And it’s all cats. So we have to work hard not to get lost in that.”
San Francisco hasn’t had a young star roving the hills since “Nash Bridges,” and tour buses still stop along “Full House” row, even though Uncle Jesse hasn’t been there in nearly 20 years. “Trauma” was stationed in Alameda during its run. “Monk” was set in San Francisco but filmed in Los Angeles and Ontario, while Bravo’s recently canceled reality show, “Start Ups: Silicon Valley,” revolved around Palo Alto pool parties. The last time the city’s single youth saw national limelight was for six months in 1994 when MTV’s “The Real World” set up shop in an old Victorian (on Lombard Street at Jones Street).
“San Francisco is the city that never wants to grow up. We all have Peter Pan Syndrome. In the show and in, like, real life,” says Wainer. “We call it SanFranLand, like Disneyland, because it’s our own special magic kingdom.”