"Tacos to Trannies: Craigslist Has it All —
Documentary Chronicles Online Community"

Associated Press, 6 August 2003

SAN FRANCISCO — Michael Ferris Gibson has been awake for 24 hours, and the frazzled filmmaker can't think straight after chugging countless cans of soda spiked with extra caffeine.

Should he dispatch camera crews to shoot the Ethel Merman drag queen auditioning drummers for his '70s-style rock band? The penny-pinching foodies seeking comrades for a late-night taqueria tour? The cash-strapped transsexual selling "erotic services" to pay for a sex change? Or the heart-tugging tale of a woman looking for someone to adopt her blind Australian Shepherd dog?

Such are the quandaries of the director of an ambitious documentary about Craigslist, the wildly popular Web site where millions of people buy, sell, swap and debate everything from politics and condos to poodles and casual sex.

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark relaxes
at his favorite coffee shop in San Francisco.

Gibson hopes his 90-minute movie, which chronicles 24 hours in the life of the online forum, makes it to the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. The staff of his company, Zealot Pictures, monitored thousands of Monday's postings and shot digital video of several dozen people who wrote them. Camera crews will spend the next three months following the most interesting stories for the documentary.

"We want to show how Craigslist is the digital commons," the 32-year-old director said Monday in Zealot's "war room" — a sunny loft strewn with bags of bagels, energy bars and bottled water in San Francisco's gritty South of Market district. "We want to show how it preserves the freethinking, young, intelligent, anti-capitalist attitude of people trying to save the world."

"Craigslist: The Movie" will explore the people behind listings on www.craigslist.org, such as the Marin County man looking for a long-term romance or the advertising executive offering $100 to rent a miniature poodle for a commercial.

The documentary will include commentary from Craig Newmark, who runs Craigslist with 12 other employees and a chief executive, Jim Buckmaster.

Michael Ferris Gibson, director of "Craigslist:
The movie," hopes his 90-minute film makes
it to the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

"It's all very surreal," said Newmark, a former IBM programmer who spends about 60 hours a week chasing spammers and deleting inappropriate messages from Craigslist. "In my heart of hearts, this whole site still feels to me like a hobby, even though I consciously realize it's much bigger."

Newmark founded Craigslist in 1995, at the urging of friends who enjoyed receiving his e-mail roundup of local events. The bare bones site — downright austere by today's standards — was meant as an "online community where folks help each other out with everyday stuff."

Craigslist remains folksy. Despite the venture capital boom in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s, when offers of acquisitions flowed into the Victorian storefront that serves as Craigslist's San Francisco headquarters, Newmark insisted the site remain "not motivated by the possibility of making big money." It charges companies $75 per job posting and may soon charge landlords for apartment listings, but Buckmaster said it would never charge individuals for classifieds, personals and discussion forums.

Craigslist expanded to Boston, then Seattle, New York and 19 other regions. But San Francisco still generates 50 percent of the 450 million page views and 4 million unique visitors per month. Northern Californians write 500,000 of the site's 800,000 forum postings per month — random rants from lonely hearts, frustrated job seekers, sexual deviants, new mothers and others.

Rachel Berney turned to Craigslist to sell a ticket to Burning Man, an experimental village that rises up every September in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. The doctoral student at University of California, Berkeley, needs to recuperate from shoulder surgery, and would not sell her $225 ticket anywhere except Craigslist — for face value, not profit.

"The people who interact with Craigslist fit the type of people I want to interact with," the 32-year-old said Monday to a Zealot camera crew that followed her to Berkeley's leafy campus.

Most of the two dozen people working on the documentary got their jobs through a Zealot posting on Craigslist, including wedding photographer Eric Slomanson, 40, who uses the site to solicit gigs.

"Finding Craigslist was a defining moment of the Internet age for me," Slomanson said, "just like when I discovered e-mail, (Adobe) PhotoShop and MapQuest."

©2003 Associated Press

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