Longtime downtown Los Altos business owner Elizabeth Szymanowski has an acclaimed filmmaker in the family. Her son Matt is working on a new movie, “The Purple Onion.”
The screenplay merited recognition from the Sundance Screenwriting Lab, and the filmmakers have received development support from the San Francisco Film Society.
But transforming the screenplay into a movie won’t be easy. The film’s launch party was held Nov. 11 in Los Altos Hills at the home of supporter Mary Myers. She and other supporters are currently trying to raise $30,000 to cover preproduction and initial production costs. Their fundraising deadline is Dec. 16.
“That movie’s going to happen,” said Elizabeth, who has run Salon Elizabeth on First Street in downtown Los Altos the past 24 years. “It’s going to be fantastic.”
Set in San Francisco and named after the recently closed historical San Francisco comedy club, the tragicomic story follows hapless amateur comedian Johnny Lee at his dead-end job as a restaurant dishwasher. Clashing with his live-in mother, the comedian is prepared to leave everything behind. When his mother finds solace in a lonely and oddball neighbor, Johnny realizes he’s pushed away the one person in his life who cares the most.
The movie is based on a good friend of Matt’s, co-writer Edwin Li, who is tapped to play the main character. Matt said he was moved by the story.
“I woke up in the middle of the night and texted him, ‘We’re going to make a movie,’” Matt said of breaking the news to his friend.
Matt recognizes the parallel between the comedian’s struggles and his own as a film artist.
“It’s a modern-day Sisyphus,” he said. “He’s pushing a boulder up the hill forever and ever, and he keeps on doing it. He asks, ‘What am I doing this for?’ But he still hopes to get to his goal.”
The Purple Onion, founded in 1952, was one of the oldest venues for comedy in North America. The club showcased some of the most influential comedians from the early days of stand-up comedy, including Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen and Phyllis Diller.
Matt hopes “The Purple Onion” will prove a positive addition to his career credits, which include producing content for CBS’ award-winning CHOW.com; media agency MKSHFT’s clients Toyota, Gizmodo and HTC; the documentary “Nine Days That Changed the World”; and various local music videos.
His short film “History of Solitude” played at the San Francisco International Festival and was presented in Poland, France and Albania. It won the Jury Award at The European Independent Film Festival in Paris.
To contribute to the film, visit www.indiegogo.com/thepurpleonion.