Sciolis of Novato work on films from their San Marin Drive home. From
right are husband and wife Don and Christine and their daughters,
Alexandra and Nicki. The family company, Zan Media, is poised to
release its first feature films: a documentary and a horror flick. (IJ
Novato residents Don and Christine Scioli and their three kids are not like most families.
In their 50s, the couple have been filmmakers, marital and business
partners since the 1980s. Their grown children, Nicki and twins Zach
and Alexandra have been, as Christine puts it, "on camera or behind it
since before they could move and before they could talk."
The Sciolis (pronounced Skee-oly) work from their San Marin Drive home,
where they own all their own equipment, from cameras to editing and
production gear. Shooting digitally for the past 10 years, they've made
thousands of short commercials, political announcements and pro-bono
spots for scores of clients including Autodesk, the county of Marin,
Moylan's Brewery & Restaurant, Supervisor Judy Arnold, Peju Winery
and giant retailers such as Wanamaker's, Weinstock's and Emporium
Now their company, Zan Media, (named for Zach, Alex and Nicki), is
poised to release its first full-length films: "A State of Vine" - a
60-minute documentary exploring Napa and Sonoma's wine industries - and
"The Beckoning" - a 90-minute low-budget horror-suspense time travel
"The Beckoning" evolved because, as Don puts it, "We always wanted to make a feature film. Christine and I wrote
together while we were busy doing commercials and other things. In
2005, we had a little time and we scheduled it in, raised the money, it
all came together. Now we're looking for distribution."
Don, who earned a master of arts in filmmaking from the Annenberg
School of Communication at the University of Southern California, does
most of the editing and directing; Christine, a former lawyer,
concentrates on writing and producing.
Shot in 17 days at various locations around Marin County,
Scioli looks at clips in his home office. His family company has
created a 60-minute documentary on the wine industries of Napa and
Sonoma counties. (IJ photo/Alan Dep)
features unknown young actors in lead roles. Ancillary actors include
well-known Marin personalities Robert Currier, artistic director of the
Marin Shakespeare Company, who plays Sir Francis Drake, and Marin
restaurateur Brendan Moylan, cast as one of Drake's privateers.
"I've been working with Don and Christine for years," says Currier.
"They call me every couple of years to be in one of their commercials.
They're great friends of mine - a wonderful, hardworking family."
Moylan says he got cast on a whim. He's contracted the Sciolis to shoot
commercials for his restaurants Moylan's, Noonan's and the Marin
Brewing Co. for the past three or four years.
"I knew them first as customers; eventually we developed a business
relationship," Moylan says. "We were having lunch one day and Christine
said, 'Do you want to be in our movie?' It was great. It was a
pyrotechnic experience. We burned a witch out at Stafford Lake, and we
had the Novato fire department helping us out."
Don Scioli explains that the film was inspired by real-life stories and
mysteries behind Sir Francis Drake's alleged monthlong sojourn in Marin
County in the 16th century.
Telling the story of a fateful weekend in the life of a young co-ed
(actress Lindsay Drummer, who has performed with Marin Shakespeare)
obsessed with Sir Francis Drake, "The Beckoning" should be a kick for
Its action sweeps the heroine on a Hitchcock-style time-and-space
odyssey that swings from the theological seminary in San Anselmo to the
Novato library to the interior of Falkirk Mansion to the coastlines of
Tomales Bay, Stafford Lake and the derelict Miramonte gas station near
the Marin County landfill. Her traumas including being captured by
Drake's men to be burned at the stake and three days trapped in a pit
in the here-and-now with a zoo's worth of red-eyed rats tumbling over
"We rented 200, maybe 250 rats from a company called Bowwow in the
South Bay," Christine recalls. "The problem with the rats was that they
were too cute."
"The ones with red eyes were mechanical," Don laughs. "The mechanical rats scared the real ones."
Completed since May 2006, "The Beckoning" is up for three potential
distribution deals; the Sciolis are considering film festivals as well.
"We're still in the process," Christine says. "Production was fine. We
have an amazing shorthand together. We know exactly what we need to do
to get the shots. Distribution is a whole other discipline, a whole
"But we're already writing 'The Beckoning, Part II,'" Don continues.
"It will be called 'The Fifteenth Mission' and will involve the Donner
Party and the Native American tragedy at San Juan Bautista. We don't
know yet about the cast."
The Sciolis' documentary "A State of Vine" was released in May 2007.
The subject matter was inspired by the couple's associate producer,
their daughter Nicki, now 22.
As Christine tells it, Nicki had just graduated from Sonoma State's
wine business program, which included an internship with a Sonoma wine
"Nicki started telling us incredible stories about the wine business
and suggested it would be a great idea for a documentary," Christine
says. "We agreed."
In June 2006 and working solely with ideas rather than a script or
outline, Don, Christine and Nicki began interviewing a variety of
vintners such as Mario Andretti and Fred Franzia, along with wine
educators and scientists in Napa and Sonoma counties. Don says the
material was so fascinating, "The film essentially wrote itself."
"A State of Vine" is being distributed through its own Web site,
astateofvine.com, through wine clubs and through the Wine Appreciation
Guild in Napa, St. Helena, Walnut Creek and Palo Alto.
"Mostly we self-distribute because that makes the best sense," Christine says.
With Nicki now a full-fledged member of the production team in her
full-time job as associate producer, the Sciolis are looking forward to
crafting lengthier, more complex films.
"My plan is to do a lot of the selling," Nicki says. "Right now, I'm
mostly doing product as well, but want to learn more of the editing and
directing sides. I want to be able to carry on this business."
Nicki feels growing up with Don and Christine as parents and spending
her life in the film business has been "fantastic. I get to go to the
most amazing functions. I get paid a salary and all the benefits, and I
only have a 30-second commute from my bedroom to the office downstairs.
But this job has benefits way beyond insurance and medical. I've had
amazing experiences since I've been a kid; I've experienced more than
Her tales are so numerous her words tumble over themselves as she
recollects anecdotes such as making a film for Balloons Above the
Valley in Napa, going up with her family in one of the balloons at 5
a.m. and running into trouble.
"It was too bumpy to land so while we were still in a little bit in the
air, my parents threw us all out of the basket into a field of
jackrabbits. It was pretty funny," she recalls. "I was too young to be
scared, but I would never do it again."
As she sees it, the adventures she and her siblings have had, and the
freedom of being part of a creative family all her life, meant they
skipped the rebellious teenage years.
"My parents did a great job of raising us. There wasn't any need to act out," she reflects.
Asked if it feels strange to get her paycheck from her parents, she says absolutely not.
"I know I'm working for it, so it's not weird," she says. "My family is
so close, there's none of that nitpicking. For me, the job is fun. I
get to do different things all the time, every day. I love what I do. I
get to hug and kiss my bosses."
Don puts it this way: "The bottom line is, we told our kids, 'If you
want to eat, you'll work with us.' It seemed to work. And they're
Leslie Harlib can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org