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CHALK and The Tenderloin Action Group

In 1990, award-winning filmmaker Rob Nilsson moved into the Pontiac, a South-of-Market transient hotel, to research and write a screenplay about homeless San Franciscans. Inspired by thoughts of his brother, Greg, who had been homeless and missing for over a decade, Nilsson spent the next months writing Hope for the Fourth Ace, a feature film to star Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Sam Jackson, and Armand Assante.

With Hope in the fundraising stage, Nilsson, in collaboration with producers Rand Crook and Ethan Sing, started a free, open acting workshop in August 1991, in order to find a supporting cast from among the people he met in the streets. He began training participants in intensive acting exercises emphasizing personal empowerment and emotional accessibility. Over time, the class's open-door policy attracted participants from all walks of life, with enough regulars for Nilsson to found the Tenderloin Action Group (TAG) -- an ongoing film acting and production workshop composed of volunteer filmmakers and recently homeless inner city residents.

As the workshop progressed, TAG took on a life of its own, surprising everyone involved with its collective energy. A dedicated core of workshop members demonstrated their desire and need to move on to a higher level of expression. Clearly, a project of their own was needed to turn TAG's enormous potential into a tangible work of art, a feature film the group could look to with pride as proof of their accomplishments. So Nilsson joined longtime collaborator Don Bajema to write a screenplay centered around characters tailored for specific TAG members, with a story influenced by workshop improvisations and the actors' own life-histories. The result was CHALK.

A small, volunteer production staff began pre-production in April, 1992. The Tides Foundation of San Francisco agreed to sponsor and oversee TAG in its search for tax-deductible contributions. With a volunteer crew, donated supplies, and discounted equipment rentals, CHALKbegan production in late June, 1992. TAG shot on weekends over several months, raising money along the way with the generous help of Sue Backman of Chalkers Billiard Club and Tony Annigoni and Paul Brienza of the Q Club, proprietors of two of the Bay Area's finest pool halls. Tom Waits, Gena Rowlands, Boz Scaggs, and Gregg Allman participated in a series of benefit events, as did international pool stars Nick Varner, Mike Massey, Johnny Archer, and Billy Aguero, Kim Davenport, and post-production in March, 1996.

But TAG does not begin and end with CHALK. The Tenderloin Action Group has four more feature films in the can, another currently in production, and three more on the drawing boards for production later this year. Working with small crews and rock-bottom budgets, employing techniques developed over twenty years of independent work, Nilsson and TAG are creating a little street corner studio to provide moviegoers with an alternative both to Hollywood and its "training-wheel" cinema, independent in name but a farm team in practice, satellite to the studios and their business ambitions.

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