Stephen Elliott is no stranger to the SF writing scene. He’s the author of seven books including The Adderall Diaries, the editor of the online literary magazine The Rumpus, and a fixture at the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto. But last night’s San Francisco premiere of his movie “Cherry” marks his first go-round as a screenwriter and director. The film charts the story of 18-year-old Anjelica as she falls into the the Bay Area pornography world, and stars Ashley Hinshaw, Heather Graham, James Franco, and Lili Tomlin.
We got a chance to chat with Stephen and learn more about the film's SF setting and much, much more.
Scout: Why set Cherry in San Francisco?
SE: I wrote the movie with Lorelei Lee, she’s an adult porn performer who works at kink.com and also a writer. I was a sex worker in my 20s, and I also know the people at kink.com really well. I always wanted to write something that was set in The Armory because it’s kind of an incredible place. It’s the largest porn studio in the world. The film is about the San Francisco world of porn, as opposed to LA or anywhere else, so I wanted to shoot it there.
Scout: What’s the difference between the SF and LA porn scenes?
SE: A lot of the more progressive tendencies in porn are coming out of SF, and it’s much more common in SF for a woman to own the company or at least to be a director. A lot of the alternative porn comes out of SF, so it’s just a different environment. if you’re at kink.com, there are lot’s of transgender people there, a lot of women are directing the films, there are women with real bodies and less plastic surgery. It’s the whole third wave feminism thing that’s pro sex and says we’re going to have sex because we want to have sex. It exists in other cities but SF is really ground zero.
Scout: What SF locations did you use while filming?
SE: At least two-thirds of the film are shot at The Armory. We built sets so lots of the apartment shots are there too. There’s an old shut-down bar across the street that used to be called The Ace, and we shot a scene there. There’s a huge scene in Dolores Park, a lot of stuff happens in Bernal Heights, but I think people will really recognize SF quite a bit. A lot of it takes place in the Mission, there’s a scene where she’s walking past the murals. The movie kind of feels like a love letter to San Francisco.
Scout: How is making a movie different from writing a novel?
SE: They have a lot in common, I think. Creatively, writing a screenplay is just another form of writing. Just like you have different rules for personal essay and journalism and fiction, a screenplay is just another type of writing. Actually, the rules are where the opportunities for creativity come from. I think publishing novels is kind of putting yourself out there, and you realize that you can’t do something that everyone likes. You have to learn how to accept the criticism that’s helpful, that makes it better, and ignore the criticism that isn’t helpful. Being a novelist is really good practice for making a movie, because you want to be open to everyone ideas but you’ve learned to listen to what’s helpful. Making a movie is so collaborative, you have this family you’re hanging out with all the time, versus when you write a book it’s like hanging out in the cave, which is why I joined The Grotto.
Scout: What’s your next project? What are you thinking about that?
SE: The first thing I did after finishing the movie was I came up with this idea for letters in the mail, this thing you do in The Rumpus where you get letters from authors. Real letters, folded up in the mail. It’s just been huge, people really love it. That was my first creative burst. I really want to do another movie next, but it has to be the right movie that I really want to do.
Scout: How are you feeling about the growth of The Rumpus?
SE: It’s amazing. I had no idea. I started The Rumpus the same way I start a novel. I didn’t know what it was going to be, I didn’t know how it was going to generate income, all that stuff. With Isaac Fitzgerald coming on board, the creation of the book club, the explosion of the columns … I’ve realized that The Rumpus was really not a magazine, it’s a community. People join to interact with the community, people subscribe to the Daily Rumpus, people participate in the book club. You figure out what you are as you go along.
Scout: What are some of your favorite spots in the city?
SE: My favorite spot in the city is Dolores Park. I think Dolores Park is the best thing in the world. It’s so beautiful and perfect in so many ways. I love all the hipsters and their fixies, they look just like me except younger. I love the Mission District. I like The Blue Plate restaurant. I love the The Writer's Grotto and 826 Valencia and McSweeneys and the literary scene in SF. It’s not competitive, people actually support each other. That’s different from a lot of other places, and that breeds a certain way of being.
Watch the "Cherry" trailer, and watch for the film in wide release September 21. Many thanks to Stephen Elliott for sharing with us!