At the Sacramento premier of "Fruitvale Station" Tuesday night, filmmaker Ryan Coogler said he handled a tight production schedule by taking cues from his time playing for the Sacramento State Hornets.
"We approached it with a football mindset," said Coogler, who graduated from California State University, Sacramento in 2007. The film Coogler wrote and directed won two awards at the Sundance Film Festival for its portrayal of the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, an unarmed African-American who was gunned down by BART police on Jan. 1, 2009.
Coogler, 27, said he had between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. -- shorter than a standard 12-hour film shoot -- to reenact the killing at Oakland's Fruitvale station over three days.
Nearly 400 people attended the Sacramento premier and subsequent question-and-answer session at Century Stadium 14, according to Sac State marketing director Becky Repka.
The event seemed like a homecoming for Coogler. "(The) first time I learned how to touch a camera was at Sac State," he said. "I learned how to write screenplays here."
Former football teammates greeted him from the audience, and film studies professor Robert Pomo, who taught Coogler and advised his independent study, led the Q&A.
"What I love most is teaching, so when one of your students manages to have a successful experience, it's a gift," Pomo said.
The conversation focused on Coogler's filmmaking process. Coogler said he wanted the movie to be "intimate," chronicling the events of Grant's life for roughly 24 hours before his death. The film showed Grant's efforts to be a better father, boyfriend and son after spending time in jail and losing his job. Actors consulted Grant's family about their roles, Coogler said.
Grant was fatally shot by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, who had responded to reports of a fight on a crowded BART train as New Year's revelers returned from San Francisco. Grant was lying face down at the time and allegedly resisting arrest. In 2010, a jury found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter and acquitted him of voluntary manslaughter and second-degree murder.
Coogler used a shaky, handheld camera to "give the audience the feeling of being there in the moment" and to reflect footage of the shooting people posted online, he said. He also strove to portray the sound of BART trains.
"It didn't feel like Hollywood," said Akiba Green, a Sacramento resident who attended the screening. "It was very real."
Coogler's college roommate Cyrus Mulitalo said, "I thought it was an awesome movie. I have a daughter (like Grant), so I can relate to it."
Mulitalo, a San Leandro native, said he played football against Grant during middle school and felt outraged when he heard about the shooting.
Coogler opened up as well. He described his extreme nervousness during the filming at Fruitvale station. "We would pause for a moment and hold hands because of what had happened there," he said.
Coogler said on the editing process, "None of us were sleeping because of the emotional heft of the video."
Spencer Colaco, a 27-year-old film student at Sac State, said Coogler's success at a same age inspired him. The question-and-answer session "felt just like 'Inside the Actor's Studio,'" he said.
"Fruitvale Station" debuted in Oakland and six other U.S. cities on July 12, the day before a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of killing Trayvon Martin. Commentators have noted the stories' parallels.
The film opens across Sacramento this Friday.
Call The Bee's Jeffrey Dastin, (916) 321-1037.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when "Fruitvale Station" premiered in Sacramento. That event was Tuesday, July 23. Story was updated at 9:35 a.m. Friday, July 26.