helps making movies in Oakland
By Barry Caine
Oakland Tribune (April 14, 2003)
Ami Zins remembers the nights her phone rang in the wee hours
with some harried member of a film-production company calling
to tell her the no-parking signs posted for an overnight shoot
had been torn down.
Or, due to a mix-up, a police officer scheduled to meet the
movie crew was at one location, but the crew was at another.
Being on call 24 hours goes with the territory, and for Zins,
the Oakland Film Coordinator, that covers a lot of neighborhoods.
``We offer a great variety of environments to film in, including
our downtown, which has an old feel to it, as well as areas
that have ultramodern steel-and-glass high-rises,'' says Zins,
who has been on the job five years, the last four full-time.
``We also have redwood forests in the hills, and the full range
of economic communities.''
Zins, 42, describes her job as matchmaking. ``I hear what people's
needs and desires are regarding a film project and then try
to figure out how best to fulfill those needs, or find the person
or agency or business that can,'' she says during an interview
in her office in Frank Ogawa Plaza.
Movies shot in Oakland during her tenure include Clint Eastwood's
``True Crime,'' Robin Williams' ``What Dreams May Come,'' Josh
Kornbluth's ``Haiku Tunnel,'' the two ``Matrix'' sequels and
parts of Finn Taylor's ``Cherish.''
Although the lineup radiates glamour, the reality comes with
little glitz. Zins, who lives in Berkeley, works more closely
with location scouts rather than stars, although she has met
her share. Among them: Sharon Stone, James Woods, Delroy Lindo,
Santana, Lawrence Fishbourne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Sean Penn, Williams
Zins does more than coordinate movie shoots, however. She also
makes arrangements for commercials, TV series, still photography
and music videos.
One of her favorite moments happened while Santana and Everlast
filmed the ``Put Your Lights On'' video at the East Bay Dragons
Club. That night, they played music nonstop for about six hours,
``When the cameras were not rolling, Santana's fingers did not
stop playing,'' Zins says. ``But he switched automatically from
the song for the video they were making, and the entire band
followed his lead. And they played a lot of Bob Marley and Jewish
folk music. And at one point, the 75-plus extras, who were all
multipierced, multitattooed and scantily clad, all started dancing
the hora (a traditional Israeli and Romanian round dance). That
Most recently, Zins' office did the phone and leg work for Danny
Glover's ``The Law and Mr. Lee'' TV pilot. Locations included
the Port of Oakland, Broadway and Telegraph Avenue between 14th
and 17th streets and several West Oakland locations. Glover
plays a detective who used to work for the Oakland Police Department.
Filming ended April 6.
If everything works as planned, CBS will televise the pilot
in the fall 2003 season, Zins says, adding that the network
is expected to announce on May 15 if it will pick up the show.
If that happens, more episodes will be shot in the city.
The Glover project sparked a typical late-night call. The production
people knew they wanted to do something with pyrotechnics, the
Berkeley resident says, ``but they didn't know till late Friday
night what and where that would be. On Saturday, I got hold
of a fire inspector to put them in touch with, so they could
get on with the filming.''
Arranging for pyrotechnics and police security - the latter
paid for by production companies at an overtime rate - are among
the nuts and bolts of her job.
``But really the hardest part, and it sounds like a very small
issue, is with the parking,'' Zins says. ``It does impact people's
lives. And in a residential neighborhood, for filming to happen
in a single home can require six blocks of parking for their
trailers, dressing rooms and such.''
Part of ``The Matrix,'' for instance, was shot under Interstate
880 and took up several blocks. That necessitated meetings with
Caltrans, the Oakland and Alameda police departments, the California
Highway Patrol, AC Transit and numerous public-works representatives.
Then they also had to make arrangements to move and find alternate
parking for about 800 cars from downtown monthly parking lots,
says Zins, who admits she sometimes brings home her work dilemmas.
``My husband (theater actor and director Lew Levinson) had to
make a rule; he did not want to hear anymore about parking.''
At the urging of Zins and her staff - which consists of an assistant
and volunteer interns - production companies send letters to
entire neighborhoods, explaining the situation before a shoot
begins and thanking them in advance.
``In general, I find that the people whose neighborhoods are
being filmed in, or whose houses or businesses are being filmed
at, find it exciting,''she says. ``It's something fresh and
new for them. It's also often a great opportunity for the schools,
parks, libraries and other nonprofits to bring in a nice little
chunk of money quickly, in exchange for the inconvenience of
having a film crew at their location.''
One of the most satisfying parts of her work is meeting with
people who are not pleased that filming is scheduled to take
place in their neighborhood. ``I hear what their concerns are,
address those issues, solve any problems, and end up with their
being happy with it and looking forward to it,'' says Zins,
who was born in San Francisco and graduated from Laney College
and San Francisco State University.
She has a master's in theater arts and has taught acting and
directing at Laney, Contra Costa College in San Pablo and Holy
Names High School in Oakland.
She got into film after auditioning and getting a couple of
commercials (including one for Poligrip). While starting an
internship program at Laney's media-communications department,
she heard there was a part-time job open at the Oakland film
office and applied for it.
Zins says she's proud to play a part in bringing production
companies to the city to generate jobs and income, ``and broaden
people's view of Oakland to the full spectrum of the diversity
of cultures and environments we have.''
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