Cities swarm with people and their stories. As lives intersect, so do the tales.
Enter filmmaker Scotty Cornfield of Pleasanton. The independent movie producer, who is also a former homicide detective, captured one of San Francisco's many stories -- a homeless man whose clever signs garner attention. The short film, "Sign of the Times," was shot in the Mission District and aired at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco in November.
Now Cornfield is collaborating with four other filmmakers as Phase 4 Films to connect "Sign" with their shorts under the title "Seven by Seven: San Francisco Stories," named after the city's dimensions in miles. Characters from each film will make appearances in the others.
"It complicated the process, but to me it was the only way to do it," Cornfield said.
The five all belong to San Francisco's filmmaking co-op, Scary Cow, where members pool resources and help with each other's productions. Their films are shown at special events at the Castro.
"Some of the filmmakers had the idea, what would it be like to put a bunch of short films together in a feature," Cornfield explained. "They made the mistake of inviting me to become part of the team -- I complicated the idea by saying what if instead of five individual films they are connected by characters."
The five films were in various stages of production, and the filmmakers began to brainstorm on how to connect the characters and put them into each others' pieces. They had to cope with logistics, figuring out what actors were available and how to work them into multiple plots.
"It was a challenge but definitely worth doing," Cornfield said. "I don't know of one that has been done quite this way before."
They held several audition days for actors.
"It was interesting, someone would audition for a role in one movie but one of the other directors would say, 'I could use this person in my film,'" Cornfield recalled.
All five directors met at one point to view audition videos.
"There is quite a pool of talented actors in the Bay Area, and they want to stay here," Cornfield said. "In the Screen Actors Guild, they move to L.A. and the competition is more intense. Some of our actors go back and forth."
"We ended up with some great talent -- it was well-written and well-shot," he added.
Once the scripts were tweaked and melded, the biggest challenge was in production, Cornfield said. The screenwriters, directors and sound technicians volunteered their time and skills because they believed in the project.
"We only work on weekends because most of the people have full-time jobs, so this was basically working all summer and into the fall to get these movies made," he said. "There was definitely some fatigue over the course of the long haul -- the cast and the crew, but especially the crew. Our director of photography shot all five of the films."
One storyline called for a wedding inside a mansion but they couldn't find anything in San Francisco that fit their budget or timing so they began to look around the Bay Area for other venues.
"I contacted the Livermore Film Commission and asked them if they had any place in mind for an old San Francisco mansion," Cornfield said.
He eventually was directed to one particular home that had been used before for movies, and the owners, Chuk and Kellie Campos, were friendly and cooperative.
"They let us turn their lives upside down for a weekend," Cornfield said with a laugh.
The Camposes enjoyed the experience, and even took part as extras in a couple of scenes.
"Kellie and I are happy to support Scotty and his cast of characters," Chuk Campos said. "Everyone was fun to hang out with and work with. They were very respectful of our home and made us feel a part of it all."
Cornfield noted they had to be careful in filming to avoid windows that might reveal the rolling hills of the Tri-Valley. He also added that working so close to home was a luxury for him if "a pain" for the other crew members.
Cornfield was a homicide detective with the San Jose Police Department, beginning in 1980. Two years later he began to work in video production, including training films at work and other corporate projects. He also shot weddings but soon discovered that working for businesses was much less stressful, plus the emergence of Silicon Valley meant plenty of clients.
He expanded his subject matter when he was inspired to produce "Children of Alcatraz," a documentary that includes interviews with people raised at the prison site between 1934 and 1963. It was dubbed Best Documentary of 2005 in a local film festival and is still for sale at the book store on Alcatraz.
After retiring from the police force in 2008, Cornfield went to the UCLA screenwriting program and graduated in 2010.
"I could fake my writing when I was doing the corporate stuff, but it takes a different kind of skill when you are trying to tell a narrative story," he said. "It is so much more fun to tell these stories."
Cornfield has since produced many short films, which he enters into festivals and posts on YouTube. And he still works as an interview and interrogation consultant for the state of California and provides technical consulting on law enforcement screenplays.
In 2016, Cornfield shot "Goodbye, NOLA," a movie about his dying father-in-law's final trip to his beloved New Orleans. During this filming, Cornfield got the idea for "Sign of the Times."
"I encountered an art display featuring homeless signs," he remembered. "Because I'm always thinking about how people can take good things and use them for evil -- an occupational hazard after 30 years in the cop biz -- I asked the person running the exhibit if all of the signs were legit or if they ever suspected homeless people might make a sign specifically to sell.
"The person was mortally offended and assured me that they were all on the up-and-up," Cornfield continued. "Still, my mind got to working, and the idea never left my head.
"That's how it all began. Since I've been trying to mature as a filmmaker and find ways to not only entertain my audience but also to explore themes I'm fascinated by or interested in, I used the issue of how we look at -- or away from -- homeless people."
Although the subject matter is thoughtful, his short film and the four others going into "Seven by Seven" were a lot of fun, he said, if a lot of work.
As always in San Francisco, they had to deal with the weather, notorious for its fluctuations.
"We were usually praying for it to be overcast. That's the best weather to shoot in, you don't have to worry about lighting," Cornfield said. "We would have a great clouded look, then it opens up and we have bright sunlight to deal with."
Cornfield said that "anthology features" such as this one have been made in New York, with different stories tied together by the city. "Paris, Je T'Aime" is a collection of 18 vignettes, and a movie titled "L.A. Stories" interweaves stories about six different couples in different parts of the city.
"But I don't know of any anthology films that have the characters come and go," Cornfield said.
They finished shooting in the fall, at the low cost of $40,000. After that, Phase 4 Films started an online crowdfunding campaign to upgrade equipment, pay actor salaries, and come up with a marketing and distribution plan.
"I think it will have appeal to people around the world," Cornfield said. "Everyone is familiar with San Francisco. The city has an amazing reputation, as a romantic city, a quirky city, a city with amazing characters and history. This film in its own way is a love letter to San Francisco and our challenge was to show the changing look of the city."
The film addresses today's issues, such as homelessness and tech workers who can't afford to live in the city, he noted.
"The film is all shot but not edited," Cornfield said. "We are looking at a total of roughly 90 minutes."
The editor will decide on the final version of the combined films, whether they are separated by title cards or just intertwined. Cornfield foresees future strategy sessions to make myriad decisions on the film's presentation and release.
"The goal is to eventually get a distribution deal, most likely for streaming -- Netflix, Hulu or Amazon," Cornfield said.
The online funding campaign deadline has been extended to Jan. 31. Go to www.seedandspark.com/fund/7by7#story. To learn about other funding opportunities, email Cornfield at SFStories2018@gmail.com or call him at 408-690-3417.