‘California Is a Place’ Still Reeling From Recession

Filmmakers Drea Cooper and Zack Canepari looked at California foreclosures through a different lens by concentrating on the crisis in some off-beat places.

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    And, finally, we come back to the foreclosure crisis, but through an unusual lens.

    Two California filmmakers have been tracking the economic fallout, telling the stories of people behind the news. Their project is called California is a Place. Here's how Drea Cooper and Zack Canepari describe their work.

    DREA COOPER, California is a Place: My name is Drea Cooper.

    ZACKARY CANEPARI, California is a Place: And I'm Zackary Canepari. And we are the creators of California is a Place, an online series of short-form documentaries about the Golden State.


    When we started the project in 2009, foreclosures were something that, you know, everyone was dealing with, were talking about. If they weren't affected by them personally, they knew someone who was.

    And the visual focus of these abandoned swimming pools to us was just mesmerizing. I mean, it was something that was deeply personal. I mean, people lived in these homes for years and years, and, all of a sudden, there's nobody there. But you can see sort of the remnants of a family's life in these backyards.

    Meanwhile, you know, on the other hand, it was this opportunity for these skaters of Fresno. And I think that's what really ultimately interested us in the "Cannonball" story, was trying to bring to life an example of something that we haven't seen.

    You know, usually, it's, you talk to the homeowners or you talk to the real estate brokers, and you talk to all the other people that are directly affected. But there's so many other people that either affected by the foreclosure crisis or have taken advantage of it.


    I remember I had kept my eye on this one for so long. First day I seen a U-Haul there. The next day, I went and dropped the pump in the middle of the night and drained it.

    I don't feel bad for them. I feel glad for me, skating in pools. It's awesome. If we're going to be doing this kind of stuff, where we're trespassing in people's yards and skating in these pools, we have got to have respect, clean the pools out, any trash we bring, take it with us when we leave. Like, people already look down on us as it is, so there's no reason to confirm what they already think is true. It would be better to prove them wrong.


    It's important that we find characters that are at one-sided — maybe people think that they know what they're all about — and give those characters a chance to speak for themselves and be, like, human.

    RICH LIEBERMAN, used car salesman: We got cars, cars, cars. Every scandalous situation you have ever heard of, every terrible impression you have ever heard of about car salesmen, it's true. Come and see me. We're all here. We're going to sit you down. Bring your pink slip and checkbook. And even if you don't have one, we will give you one.


    Rich Lieberman, AKA Big Vinny, is a used car salesman, or was a used car salesman in Alameda, California, for 25 years.

    And, when we first met him, he had recently been let go from the company that he had been working for, a family-own used car sales business, and had been moved back in with his mom, and really had no job prospects. And what's more telling than the death of the used car business than the guy named Big Vinny having to move back in with his mother?


    This business is like no other business in the world. It's not for everybody. It's the ultimate in just absolute rejection personified. Most times, you're going to fail. It's like, I mean, the greatest baseball player in the world that makes the Hall of Fame fails seven out of 10 times. Because they're a .300 hitter, they're going to make it to the Hall of Fame.

    So, imagine that mind-set when you're trying to sell a car in the car business. You're going to have more failure.


    When we're looking for stories, we often start with sort of big issues, big themes that California and many other states are dealing with.

    And what we have been trying to do with our films is get down to sort of the base level, get down to the man-on-the-street level, and try to find people who can just share with us their personal experiences on these issues to try to sort of better understand them.