Kathleen Courtney is Behind the Scenes at Alameda Point

The recently released film Steve Jobs use a $1 million set at Alameda Point, pleasing the movie’s production manager who is crowing about the city’s film-friendly vibe.


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Production manager Kathleen Courtney found Alameda great as set-building and filming location.

Photo by Lori Eanes

Why would Kathleen Courtney, an experienced feature film production manager from Los Angeles, decide to move to the Bay Area? You might say she was caught by a wave.

“I came to the Bay Area to work on Chasing Mavericks, and it was one of the best experiences of my life,” she said. “It was truly a joy. I went home for two weeks to Encino, and I packed my bags.”

Since moving, Courtney has also production-managed the San Francisco portion of the feature film San Andreas and the about-to-be released Steve Jobs. “The reason why I came to this area is because of the cast and crew,” she said over breakfast at a cafe near her new home in Pacifica. “It’s what I call the three P’s: people, place, and project. For me, No. 1 is the people. I’m really happy that I can spend the rest of my days working up here in the Bay Area. What I want to do is share in the community that I’ve found to be very welcoming and quite down-to-earth.”

As a production manager, Courtney supervises all the physical and financial aspects of a film production, including the production budget, the crew, and personnel. All day-to-day expenditures are under her supervision, including salaries, production costs, and equipment rentals. “The crew in the Bay Area are with very rare exception, the highest quality of people that I’ve worked with,” Courtney said. “That’s a pretty big thing to say about an entire group of people, and that’s my reputation on the line, so I’m not going to just throw that about. I’m excited and really honored to be part of the Bay Area production community.”

Steve Jobs includes a formidable Oscar-winning team. The screenplay comes from Aaron Sorkin, the director is Danny Boyle, and the cast includes Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan, and Jeff Daniels, among others. Courtney came on board as production manager in part due to her experience of working on many productions with artists at the top of their game and their corresponding appetites, challenges, and expectations.

“In pre-production, I am usually the first person they hire, but there have been people working on it for years, of course,” she said. “In pre-production, part of my job is to hire the crew and the personnel. Overall, what I should do is provide the director with the ability to realize his or her vision.”

Alameda, or rather an Alameda set, makes a cameo appearance in the soon-to-be-released film. Some of those backstage scenes at Davies Symphony Hall may look just like the real deal, but they are impostors. For the final two weeks of production, the local crew had to re-create the backstage area of Davies Symphony Hall on a constructed stage in a converted warehouse at Alameda Point during the last week of March and the first week of April. The production had shot at Davies Symphony Hall for 10 days previously, but concurrent ballet performances led to technical and time challenges, making it more productive and cost-effective to complete filming on a duplicated set in Alameda.

The stage space includes 82,251 square feet and is owned by the city of Alameda. “Alameda warehouses are a go-to location for building stage sets in the Bay Area. Everyone from location scouts to carpenters knows that site, “ Courtney said.

They constructed the set, shot the film, and took everything down over a four-month span, employing hundreds of carpenters, painters, electricians, drivers, decorators, medics, and many other technicians. The construction budget alone was more than $1 million, and most of that money was spent to build the sets in the East Bay. Few locals knew the filming was happening, and that’s because the city of Alameda and its residents were gracious and respectful to the shooting crew, according to Courtney.

“It’s a moment that I will never forget,” Courtney said about her experience of walking onto the Alameda set. “Working a day before at Symphony Hall and then working the next day on our stage set that was an exact duplicate of the backstage of Symphony Hall. It was mind-blowing. Everyone on our crew had the same reaction. I saw Danny Boyle walking in and just going, ‘Oh, my …’ It took our breath away. It was an amazing feat. It’s one of those times when you think, ‘Cool, I work in the film industry.’ ”

After all that building and production, there was dismantling to do, and the Steve Jobs folks decided to pass along materials and clothes. They donated more than 100 set walls to local schools, Habitat for Humanity, and a local media business to be reused and given a second life. And they also gave background costumes valued at more than $50,000 to Bay Area charities Image For Success and Out of the Closet.

“Action!” Now that’s a word Courtney likes to hear.

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