To research his new book, Filmlandia: A Movie Lover’s Guide to the Films and Television of Seattle, Portland, and the Great Northwest (out on Sasquatch April 18), author and former Stranger columnist David Schmader watched a total of 187 movies and 15 television shows, all of which were at least partially filmed in the Pacific Northwest.
“If it got a theatrical release, I would watch it,” he told me. “That meant, like, even a one-time screening at Seattle International Film Festival.”
It wasn’t as easy as sitting on the couch and hitting play. Some films were close to impossible to track down—physical media mecca Scarecrow came to the rescue several times over—and to uncover the entertaining factoids peppered throughout the book, Schmader had to go back to the pre-streaming Dark Ages. “This feels like churning butter now, but I went back to Netflix discs in the mail because I wanted commentary tracks.”
The workload was a grind, but the final product is a dream. Filmlandia is a quick, joyful read that’s as much a love letter to local film and television icons such as Lynn Shelton, Megan Griffiths, and Irene from the Real World as it is to the Pacific Northwest’s (mostly) sparkling scenery. And oh, boy, is this corner of the country filled with weird little treasures.
Did you know the gay porn series Seattle Bareback Boyz—where “young, hairless, and markedly thin guys have sex without condoms in and around Seattle,” writes Schmader—was immortalized on an episode of Chris Hansen’s To Catch a Predator? And the scene-stealing babysitter in Sleepless in Seattle was played by a local woman named Amanda Maher, who, Schmader writes, “was discovered waiting tables at the legendary health-food restaurant, Gravity Bar, and hired for what is still her one and only film credit.” Fun facts abound!
Ahead of Filmlandia’s release, Schmader (and his handsome dog, Pierre) hopped on a Zoom call to talk a bit about what he uncovered during his hundreds of hours of research.
You’re a big film buff; you reviewed tons of movies for The Stranger over the years. Did you discover any movies in the research process that you missed the first time around?
I’m a film buff, but I spent the ’90s only watching movies where Björk got executed at the end so there’s this whole world of fun movies I never got to see! I never got to see Practical Magic, I had never seen Overboard. Who had time to watch Overboard? I was watching Seven Samurai! Now I’m over that. I’m like, “Life is short. If not now, when Overboard?” Say Anything—I didn’t know what a fucking beautiful movie that is. The supporting characters are so impressive, and it’s deeper than it has any right to be. That was a happy surprise.
The one that really knocked me out was called Late Autumn. It’s this triple production from South Korea, the United States, and China. It’s about this woman who’s released from prison for a weekend to go to a family funeral and has, like, a Before Sunrise experience with a gigolo. They just have this dreamy 24-hour date that involves tons of the Seattle Center when they were dismantling the Fun Forest, so it has this spooky-ass feel. They make such beautiful use of it. It’s a movie I’d never heard of; I’ll never forget it. I hope everyone will see it.
Now that you’ve seen literally every movie ever filmed in the Northwest, are there any local stories or experiences that haven’t been immortalized in film that absolutely deserve to be?
Thank you for asking this question, Megan Seling, I have an answer for you. [Laughs] It was in 2006 when the New York Dolls released their triumphant reunion album, One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, and they came and played El Corazon. In that tiny room, in the audience, were Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau. I wasn’t there, and I want a movie of that entire experience. It seems like a Warhol installation.
That’s amazing! How did you hear about that?
It was a Last Days tip! I’m still not over it, as you can tell. I’m ready to go back. Where’s my time machine?
Historically, Seattle hasn’t taken advantage of film programs as much as it could have—you write about this in the book, the Vancouver switcharoo. Movies are set in Seattle but filmed elsewhere, like Canada. The City did recently launch the new Film Commission, but that’s coming along while the local film community keeps taking hits. Cinerama’s still closed, the Grand Illusion announced their lease will soon be up. Can this course be corrected? What do you see happening?
You know what gives me so much hope about “Can that be corrected? Will film ever come back?” We somehow have wound up listening to radio shows as our primary entertainment these days with podcasts. Somehow we reached a phase of history where we’re like, “I want the information, but I want to be able to do other things with my eyes.” So it might just take a certain period of time where we realize that going to a room with other people, watching a huge movie with a good sound system and not being allowed to push pause, not being allowed to look at your phone, like, that will become important again.
That’s so true! I always thought podcasts killed radio, but really they just shifted its platform. So, along the same lines of the question about moments in Seattle history that need to be immortalized, I also have to ask: If somebody were to make a movie about your time in the Pacific Northwest, who would play you, and what are a few Seattle landmarks, past or present, that would be included?
They would have to dig up Fred MacMurray and somehow rejuvenate his corpse and he would play me. Places? Ham grab [The Mezze plate at Barça’s happy hour that Stranger staffers would get after work and literally fight over], of course. There used to be this lovely museum of wang called Basic Plumbing—it’s now Lost Lake. Re-bar, that’s where I met my first boyfriend and did my first show. It’s where I met Dan Savage. It’s where I broke up with my first boyfriend. I can’t believe it’s a dueling piano bar now. One more is Bailey/Coy Books, the gay bookstore for everyone. I have way more alumnus feelings about that than I do about my college. Those are the people I learned how to be a grown-up with.