Jeff Gordinier
June 16, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Christmas was right around the corner, but Groove looked doomed.

Everything should’ve been coming up candy canes. Groove — a sweaty, sternum-thumping indie romp about young San Franciscans colliding and canoodling at a dusk-to-dawn rave — had a chance to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. The problem? Unless director Greg Harrison tracked down $100,000 for post-production costs, Groove would get stuck in the chill room.

Enter…the investors. These weren’t your run-of-the-mill sugar daddies. No Hugo Boss suits, no lawyers, no delicate negotiations over asparagus risotto. True, the heady days of overnight dot-com lucre would soon be coming to an end, but the boom had made San Francisco flush with new money: You just never knew who might be a millionaire. Groove‘s 27-year-old producer, Danielle Renfrew, remembers it this way: ”I open the door and I’m like, ‘Hi.’ They both look like they are 25 — tops. One of them has his hair dyed blue. The other one’s holding a skateboard. They open up their checkbooks and just hand-write checks: one for $75,000 and one for $25,000.”

Renfrew and Groove‘s 11th-hour Santas — founders Michael Bayne and Ray Greenwell — went to a notary public in San Francisco’s Mission District to make sure all the paperwork was in order. ”Then we walked down to get a taco,” she says. ”It was unbelievable.”

Believe it. The NASDAQ has been taking a thrashing over the past few months, but a decade of stock market windfalls has left the Bay hip-deep in Internet pioneers — engineers, Web designers, venture capitalists, sapphire-haired skate punks — who still have cash to burn. ”It’s something that I don’t think we’ve ever seen, maybe, in America,” says Harrison, 31. ”The dot-coms and the Silicon Valley phenomenon are creating for the first time young, vibrant, creative people with a lot of money.”

Naturally, that Bay Area bonanza is a blessing for young, vibrant, creative filmmakers who know how to build a Golden Gate bridge to all that investment. The bridge goes both ways: After scoring that beat-the-clock infusion of sourdough in December, Groove made it to Sundance, where Sony Pictures Classics snapped it up for $1.5 million. (It thumps into theaters June 9.) Now the guy who scribbled that $75,000 check — Bayne, a Groove executive producer — stands to watch his seed money bloom if Groove becomes a summer hit. ”I didn’t even get involved in the film with the intent of making a lot of money. I wasn’t looking at it like that,” Bayne says. ”But it will turn out to have been a really sensible investment.” (Bayne’s actually a ripe old 27, by the way.)

Northern California has always served as a rebel stronghold for movie types — a breezy refuge from the cutthroat wheeling-and-dealing of the Hollywood Death Star. It’s a place where you might run into some of the top documentarians in the world (such as Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, the guys behind 1996’s The Celluloid Closet), not to mention plenty of heavy-hitters with a defiant streak (Francis Ford Coppola, Saul Zaentz, George Lucas). Indeed, Lucas and Robert Redford are said to have their eyes on establishing a thriving film complex — in Redford’s case, a sort of Sundance 2 — in the bucolic groves near the Presidio.

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