Established 1978

New Sounds For Dolby: A Tahoe Tour De Force

by Merla Zellerbach

Tom Dolby may belong to a famous family, but he’s never been one to trade on his name rather than his talents.

A Yale graduate, Tom has written four acclaimed novels and a television series and, more recently, he’s getting praise—and top reviews—as co-director and screenwriter of his first full-length film, Last Weekend. It opens at Bay Area theatres on August 29, and will be available on video-on-demand.

Nob Hill Gazette: What inspired you to make this movie?

profileTom Dolby: I’d always wanted to write something set in Lake Tahoe—it’s such a magical place, yet so few people outside of Northern California know about it. I wanted to bring some of the Tahoe experience to a wider audience. I also loved the idea of doing a film that is set over a contained number of days (a long weekend), in a single location (one property), with an ensemble cast. I’ve always been a fan of movies like this—Rachel Getting Married, The Big Chill, Woody Allen’s September—so it was fun to create my own.

NHG: What was it like to have your family home in Tahoe turned into a movie set for five weeks?

TD: A little bizarre—imagine a crew of 50 people walking through your vacation house each day! But I’ve been there since then with my family, and the experience is just as it was before [the filming]. On a personal level, Last Weekend is a lovely memento of the good times we’ve had in that house.

NHG: You must get this question often. How did your late father, Ray Dolby, influence your life?

TD: I grew up in a world in which movies were paramount—we were always going to the cinema, or my dad was making sure we had the latest videocassette player so we could watch films at home. More than anything, he taught me that the most important thing in life is to love your job. I’ve been so fortunate that I’ve been able to pursue my interests, novel-writing and filmmaking. Dad never pursued his business interests to make money. Making a living was a fortunate by-product of his passions.

NHG: I enjoyed the movie very much, but couldn’t help noticing some resemblances to your life. How much of it is autobiographical?

TD: Last Weekend started with an autobiographical set-up (successful father, sophisticated mother, two sons), but then I let it spin out into fiction. The story was modeled after Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard—the classic narrative of a family that has to let go of their long-held estate. It’s difficult, particularly for the matriarch. Films don’t explore that period in a 50 or 60-year-old woman’s life. What’s her role, for example, after she’s finished raising her kids, and her husband has reached a certain level of success? Celia, the film’s heroine, is forced to confront that head-on.

NHG: The “eccentric matriarch,” as she’s called in your press kit, is not modeled after your mother, right?

TD: It was hard not to draw parallels to my mother, as the house that my mother created, filled with collections and memories, very much influenced the character. But no, the character is not modeled after her, per se. The character developed on the page, and then after Patricia Clarkson agreed to play the role, Celia grew and changed into something unique.

NHG: Are there are any San Francisco-specific moments in the film?

TD: Yes, we used local names such as the San Francisco Chronicle. I loved giving the father character jokes about all the venture capitalists and “dot-commers” (his dated phrase) who were invading the Tahoe scene.

NHG: You have a scene in the film that re-creates the annual League to Save Lake Tahoe benefit. Will any San Franciscans recognize themselves?

TD: Sure. A group of my parents’ friends came up from the city to play party guests in the background. They were real troupers—it was a long day of filming.

NHG: What’s next for Tom Dolby?

TD: I’m developing a number of projects through my company, Water’s End Productions. I’m co-writing some projects with other writers, as well as scripts and books that we’re optioning. It’s an exciting time in the world of independent film-making right now, and I’m thrilled to be part of it.


Merla Zellerbach has been involved with many charitable causes, currently Compassion & Choices, which deals with end-of-life options. A columnist for the SF Chronicle for 23 years, and Nob Hill Gazette editor for 12 years, she’s also written 18 books. Her new Hallie Marsh mystery, 21 Huntington Court, should be available before Christmas.

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