Oregon Movies, A to Z

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Don Zavin/Oregon filmmaker

October 27th, 2009 by Anne Richardson · 3 Comments · Oregon director, Oregon filmmaker, Oregon producer

DON ZAVIN (1932-1998) was a producer, director, writer, editor and production manager for television documentaries, educational and corporate productions and theatrical feature motion picture films for more than 30 years.  A Portland native and a graduate of the University of Oregon, his early career included a print journalism stint in Europe before he joined KATU-TV as the director of one of the station’s first public affairs series, The Trailblazers, a co-production with the Oregon Historical Society.  Bitten by the documentary bug, he re-located to San Francisco in the 1960s to direct an investigative documentary series, Assignment Four, for the NBC affiliate KRON-TV.  It won him & his co-producers the coveted Peabody award and an Emmy for broadcast Journalism Excellence.  Setting up shop as an independent, and mixing with such noteables as the Maysles Brothers and others, he abandoned the narrator-laden style of television in favor of a quieter but more penetrating observational approach, busting onto the national scene in 1974 with a half-hour CBS special about drug addiction, 11:59 LAST MINUTE TO CHOOSE, the first independently-produced program to be purchased by a national network, and the first program on commercial television to graphically depict the act of shooting heroin.

After two restless years in Los Angeles, he decided his home state would be a more fertile place to write and develop his projects.  From an office in Northwest Portland and a beach house in Rockaway, in 1976, he conceived and produced a 13-part instructional series for the North American Soccer League, SOCCER FOR EVERYONE, which was aired by OPB public teleivison and nationally by its affiliates.

A lifelong basketball fan, he decided that same year to parlay his experitise as a sports producer into a new project which would tap into Portland’s affinity for its up and coming NBA basketball team, the Portland Trailblazers.  Assembling a crew of some of Portland’s leading freelancers (including cinematographer Mike McLeod, sound engineer Rick Johnson and producer Reagan Ramsey), he secured the  permission of Harry Glickman’s young club to follow the players and coaches for the entire season, both on the court and off.  Would the team make it to the championships?  Financial backers were willing to gamble with Zavin that it would, and a film known as FAST BREAK was born.

Superstar and counterculture figure Bill Walton quickly emerged as the film’s main character, both for his ethic as a player and excellence at the hoop, providing Zavin, who acted as writer/producer/editor, with a thread around which to wrap the season story.  Hours and hours of footage accumulated as the team stayed in the running and prospect of a World Championship rocketed toward reality.  Committed once again to resisting a narrator-driven approach, Zavin added devices to propel and flesh out the narrative:  the parallel story of local writer Larry Colton’s attempt at writing a book about the team, Walton on a bicycle odyssey along Highway 101 on the Oregon Coast and teaching basketball to kids on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, and finally, rhythmic original music by the local progressive jazz group, Oregon.

Somewhere between being an observation, meditation and celebration, the two-hour long FAST BREAK premiered at the Fox Theatre in 1978 and to audiences of the 6th Northwest Film & Video Festival later that same year.  The hope that the film would have a major commercial release was subsequently thwarted by Walton’s rupture from the team and the negative public sentiment which ensued.  Attempts at distribution were abandoned.  The film and its hundreds of hours of outtakes are now housed in the Don Zavin Collection of the Oregon Historical Society Moving Image Archives waiting restoration and preservation.

In the 1980’s Zavin went on to found “The Electric Picture,” a Portland-based production company, which created industrial, promotional and training films for such clients as the Bonneville Power Administration, Oregon Associated Industries, various Portland hospitals, and the Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation.  He also worked on several Oregon-produced theatrical feature films including ST. HELENS, starring Art Carney; O’HARA’S WIFE, starring Ed Asner; SHADOWPLAY, directed by Susan Shadburne; Sam Peckinpah’s THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND; and Don Gronquist’s THE DEVIL’S KEEP.  In addition to his filmmaking career, he also taught video production and editing at the Northwest Film Center for nearly twenty years.

Thank you to Ellen Thomas, Oregon Movies A to Z’s first guest blogger, for this biography of her late husband.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 reagan // Oct 30, 2009 at 3:55 am

    I worked with Don on several films and remember how true he was to his vision. He had a gentle nature and was an innovator in a very creative time in Portland’s film history.

  • 2 1961/Festival Center of Performing Arts « Oregon Movies, A to Z // Jan 19, 2010 at 9:54 am

    [...] Center of Performing Arts. The plaza project for the multiple-purpose theatre is the brain child of Don Zavin, TV producer, director and writer who says he has $500,000 in firm commitments. The project is [...]

  • 3 Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) | Oregon Movies, A to Z // Jan 21, 2010 at 10:05 am

    [...] film connoisseur. Blake is the second guest blogger to appear on Oregon Movies, A to Z, after Ellen Thomas. Share [...]

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