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Zaentz Film Center Lays Off Staff By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday January 04, 2005

Though the Saul Zaentz Film Center, Berkeley’s own little bit of Hollywood, will lay off all its employees Jan. 14, efforts are underway to find someone to pick up the reins. 

Named after the legendary record and film producer who is one of the firm’s owners, the center boasts three Academy Awards for Best Sound for its work on: 

•Amadeus (also produced by Zaentz himself, who won the Best Picture Oscar as well) 

•The Right Stuff, and 

• The English Patient (another Zaentz production that won the Best Picture Oscar). 

Film Center General Manager Steve Shurtz said the decision to “cut loose” the film center was prompted by Zaentz’s November sale of his Fantasy Records label, housed in the same seven-story Fantasy Building at 2600 Tenth St. in West Berkeley. 

Zaentz and his partners retain ownership of the building, Shurtz said. 

Considered the preeminent jazz label, Fantasy’s catalog also includes folk, Lenny Bruce, Allen Ginsberg, R&B and the rock hits of Creedence Clearwater Revival. 

The buyer was Concord Records, a Beverly Hills firm co-owned by veteran TV producer Norman Lear. 

According to an account in the Hollywood Reporter, Zaentz and his partners were paid more than $80 million for the Fantasy label. 

Fantasy and its archives remain in the building, which also houses the offices of independent filmmakers, sound designers, and cinematographers, Shurtz said. 

Work won’t stop at the film center once the final paychecks are handed out next week. 

“Director Terry Zwigoff is working here doing post-production work on (the upcoming feature film) Art School Confidential,” Shurtz said, and a half-dozen film center employees will be assisting on a freelance basis. 

“The door is still open a crack for freelance work while we pursue new owners,” he said. 

On the other side of the Bay, similar problems are forcing the closure of Francis Ford Coppolla’s American Zoetrope post-production facility in North Beach, which plans to reopen as a DVD production facility. 

Shurtz said several factors have slowed the Bay Area production and post-production work in recent years. 

“I don’t think anyone in the Bay Area’s been busy in the last three or four years,” he said. “One of the biggest reasons is that all the major studios have spent vast amounts on digital technology—Warner Brothers alone spent $22 million, and the other studios have spent similar amounts. 

“More than ever, they’re now trying to persuade directors to use their own facilities.” 

Another factor was Sept. 11, 2001. 

“Among indies (industry-speak for independent filmmakers), there’s a more stay-at-home attitude since 9/11,” he said. 

“There’s been a real downturn in shooting in the Bay Area. We used to have a television series, Nash Bridges, but that’s gone, and there aren’t many films shooting here either. 

“It could change again, but changes like that usually play out over long swings of the pendulum.” 

Then there are the technological changes. 

“There’s been a whole desktop revolution. A lot of post production work can now be done on desktop computers, even laptops, and that’s hit hard,” he said. 

The crew at the Film Center has been remarkably stable, and some date back to the day the Fantasy Building opened 24 years ago. 

Shurtz himself has spent 20 years at the facility. “You’re still considered a kid if you’ve only been here 15 years,” he added. 

“We’re going to try and figure out a way to keep operating. We’re still feeling it out, but roughly 350 movies and three Academy Awards is quite a track record for any company. There’s a lot of talent here in the Bay Area, and it would be a shame to give up on it.” 

At 84, Zaentz isn’t giving up, said Shurtz. Though his last feature film was The English Patient in 1996, “he’s now pursuing a new film project about the Spanish painter Goya and working hard to make that happen.” 

A New Jersey native, Zaentz settled in the Bay Area in 1955 when he joined the staff of Fantasy Records. Twelve years later, in partnership with a team of investors, he bought the company. 

He branched out into film, produced his first film in 1973, and winning a Best Film Oscar two years later for his production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.›