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Former Oakland City Jail stars in movie
By Laura Casey, STAFF WRITER
February 28, 2006

OAKLAND Her eyes closed and lips in a pout, an actress sits inside the former Oakland City Jail guard station waiting for a make-up artist to gently stroke some color onto her face.
A few doors down, Holding Cell 2 has been transformed from a dark and dank jail cell into a dark and dank Hollywood wardrobe closet. There, the stars of the movie "Curse of Alcatraz" choose their outfit for the day's shooting in the ghost town-like jail.

The City Jail was closed last year to save Oakland almost $3 million and help close a $31.7 million budget shortfall.

Inside the jail, it looks as though time stopped in June 2005, when the last of Oakland's prisoners were transferred. Cafeteria trays still lay stacked in the kitchen near rolling bins labeled "Oatmeal" and "Sugar." Toothpaste graffiti of crosses and lovers' names haven't been rubbed off the walls; sunflower seed shells are tucked inside nooks in cell doors. It is the perfect set for a jail movie, said "Curse of Alcatraz" producer Sean Wilson, an Oakland native who scouted the location for the film.

"The prisoners went away and everything was left intact," he said.

"Curse of Alcatraz," written and directed by Daniel Zirilli, is what people in the industry call a "straight to DVD" movie.

Zirilli has spent years in the film industry, directing more than 200 movies, commercials and music videos. He said there is a huge market for "straight to DVD" films in local video stores and overseas.

This movie is a horror/thriller that follows a forensic expert, a professor and his students into the former Alcatraz prison to study a mummified body. During their study, they unwittingly uncover a bloodborne illness that takes them over one-by-one.
Part of the film was shot on Alcatraz island itself, but the portions inside an actual jail are being shot for seven days in Oakland.

It is a perfect fit, Wilson said. The two jails were built within a decade of one another, and the bars on their cells are of the same design.

"This is an old-school cell line," he said while walking the second floor of the jail, where longtime prisoners were once held.

He entered a cell and rolled the door shut. The distinctive "clink" sound of metal hitting metal is ominous for him and the film's actors, he said. As they were shooting a scene with all the actors inside a cell, Wilson said the actors were noticeably disturbed by the confinement.

"It's eerie," said Alex Quinn, the lead actor in the film. "You definitely feel the claustrophobia, you know? It makes you want to stay out of it."

Wilson considers it a "coup" to get access to the Oakland City Jail from city leaders and the Oakland Film Office.

Ami Zins of the Oakland Film Office said it's been a great deal for Oakland too. All the film's actors and other workers, some of whom are local, including Wilson, are staying in local hotels and spending money in local shops and restaurants.

"This is really one of those great local-boy-keeps-production-here-in-town stories," Zins said.

"Curse of Alcatraz" will be released in stores this summer.

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