Manuel Crosby is a local filmmaker from Valley Springs who made his directorial debut with the film “First Date,” which premiered at Sundance 2021 + will screen Thurs., June 16, at the Crocker Art Museum.
We asked Manuel 10 questions about life + art in the River City. Keep reading to find out the inspiration behind his film, “First Date,” and what he thinks our region offers local artists.
Q: Describe your perfect day in Sac in the length of a Tweet.
A: My perfect day in Sac is probably a day on set, full of interaction + collaboration with local creatives.
Q: Name 3-5 other local leaders, influencers, or movers + shakers you’re watching.
A: I am mostly connected with the artist + filmmaker crowd, so that applies to everyone here: Randy Nundlall Jr. + Rob Livings, Nicole Berry, Josh Pierson, Morgan Paige Christian, Cody Martin. Too many to name! So many cool people doing great things out here.
Q: You can only choose one local restaurant menu to bring with you to a deserted island — which one is it and why?
A: Paesanos — because it’s great Italian food.
Q: What were the last 3 things you did locally?
A: I went to the premiere of “Infrared,” a local feature film made by Rob Livings + Randy Nundlall Jr. along with a number of local actors and crew. It was fantastic to see their unique storytelling approach (creating a narrative feature film through a 100% improvised storyline) come to fruition on the big screen at the Tower Theater.
I was also given a tour of Old Sacramento by the most knowledgeable Sac history expert around, who chooses to remain anonymous… and before that I stopped by Mike’s Camera to get some still picture film developed and scanned.
Q: Who are 2-3 other local artists you’re inspired by? Why?
A: I am inspired by everyone I highlighted above. But to go further into a few specific people, Josh Pierson, Nicole Berry, and Morgan Paige Christian because they are all multidisciplinary artists who create across mediums, regardless of the obstacles presented to them. I find this passion-driven approach of bringing narrative storytelling to many different art forms to be very inspiring. They all live creative lives and, to me, that is the most important thing as an artist. I am also a huge fan of the band Deftones, who are originally from Sacramento. Their music, whether old or new, continually inspires me with its emotional richness + exploratory nature, as they are constantly redefining the genre they helped crystallize.
Q: What’s the inspiration behind the story in your film “First Date?”
A: Initially, the idea for First Date came from a few things. My friend Darren Knapp and I had been making movies in our hometown of Valley Springs for close to 10 years. I would always make trips out there during college or afterwards, and we would be collaborating on short films with the hopes of making a feature someday. The region, the landscape, the friends we had nearby would always just pop into our heads when we would dream up ideas. And then we would also have movie nights at Darren’s house and around 2017, when the project first began, we were watching a lot of 90s indie movies by directors who were making their first movies and just had this awesome electricity + spark to them — like people who were just picking up a camera and making their dreams happen.
Also at the time, I was having car problems. So, one day over breakfast I was complaining to Darren about my tough luck with used cars, and how it was impossible to know how the former owners actually treated them. We started joking around about cars with crazy backstories, and then we began throwing movie plot ideas into the mix: “What if a kid was buying his first car to take his crush on a date?” + “What if that car had the worst backstory you could imagine?” Things just snowballed from there, and by the end of that breakfast we had the entire rough outline for this movie. Immediately, I could feel the vibe of it and got excited to make it, because it had the same energy that we loved in the movies we had been inspired by. So from there we worked on characters, story arcs, and began coming up with ways we could make an interlocking story about a bunch of different people who all come together on one fateful night. It felt like a movie we wanted to see and that got me very excited.
As far as our production method, we both came from DIY-filmmaking backgrounds, so the prospect of getting to wear multiple hats + make a truly independent feature with a very hands-on approach was something I had been eager to try for years. It worked for our limited resources, but it also felt like that dream canvas we had always wanted. A chance to just be creative in a bunch of different ways and do something that we were excited about all the way.
Q: What does the Sac region offer for filmmakers that you think makes it unique?
A: This region’s greatest strength is the close-knit community within the arts. It’s rare to find communities where people are so open to collaboration born out of genuine connection first and foremost. Also, there is always a sense of excitement with people that I collaborate with on projects. The magic is still here and I hope it can be continually harnessed in the future.
Q: What are some of the stories from our region you think would be interesting to explore through film, like famous people + historical events?
A: The story of Joaquin Murrieta would be fascinating to dive into and would make a great Western tale. Legend has it that he came out of the Sonora region, and there is a lot of mystery surrounding his life, outlaw exploits, and death.
Q: What’s something that every Sacramentan should know about?
A: This is sage advice from a wise friend: No matter how hot it gets, do not swim in the Sacramento River.
But also, The Crocker Art Museum is a great place to see independent movies during their summer screening series. Another great venue for that throughout the year is The Tower Theater. Both places show local independent films from time to time too- so they are great places to see what is going on.
Q: What do you think Sac will be known for in 10 years?
A: I hope that in 10 years, Sacramento is known as a place where the tight knit artist community was able to blossom into something greater, and where creatives have more resources to achieve their artistic visions in whatever they are working on. All it takes is momentum, and from what I have seen recently and the people I have met, it looks like that could very well be the case. As long as artists keep supporting each other and inspire each other to grow, taking bigger swings along the way, I have faith that it will happen.