‘Licorice Pizza’ features the former owners of the neighborhood’s best pizza

Written by By Alana Haim, CNN Los Angeles, Contributors.

“I grew up in the desert in Bakersfield, California,” says Alana Haim of her new feature-length film “Licorice Pizza,” which plays out in her childhood hometown over the course of one school day. “I would go to this little kitchen where my grandmother used to bake, and I would sit in front of this wood burning oven and eat pizza.”

Haim wanted to capture that time and place of her childhood in the film, which premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday, to share that experience.

Born and raised in Bakersfield, California, Haim says she visited the Pan American Avenue bakery countless times as a child — every day she would have two slices of pizza and a soda while she waited for a ride to school.

Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass in “Licorice Pizza.” Credit: Courtesy Band of Outsiders

That bakery, owned by Haim’s grandmother, runs recreations throughout the year, but is most active in December during the holidays. The bakery prepares gluten-free pizzas for when they are sold out during the holidays, but for this film Haim focused on the actual Pan American Avenue market, which is in the works to open a brick-and-mortar store for 2019.

Haim attended California State University Bakersfield in the late 1990s to finish her culinary studies, but that’s when she was most focused on music.

“I still worked at Pan American Avenue — I actually worked there until about two years ago, and I was executive chef for Pan American,” she says. “I cooked a lot of pasta.”

Haim began working as a restaurant chef at 21, and worked at several Los Angeles-area restaurants and gastropubs before deciding to embark on a solo career.

“I was working at, like, a rock and roll restaurant called The Wedge , with bands like Jane’s Addiction and (Snoop Dogg).”

“Pizza” stars Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass Credit: Courtesy Band of Outsiders

Throughout her pre-crowdfunding phase, Haim sold the film to folks such as Mac and Neato founder and co-founder Kevin Hood, who filmed and edited it, and Brittany Kuhn of Band of Outsiders, who lent her resources. (Haim’s mother, Rana Haim, is the co-owner of La Marque, a clothing boutique in L.A.)

Haim wrote the script over the course of more than two years, taking inspiration from her own experiences.

“My grandmother really instilled in me the importance of food,” she says. “My grandmother used to be like a soccer mom, but she also became a writer. She was a huge sci-fi and black-and-white film nerd, so that’s something that we really wanted to stay true to.”

Haim says she was inspired by the very unusual, magical quality of the California desert, and how people can be “more distinctive and unique” there. She modeled the creative direction and structure of “Licorice Pizza” on the films of Italian-Swiss filmmaker Federico Fellini.

“It’s just about being unique and having your own voice, and my grandmother always would say, ‘Once you have your voice, you can never lose it,'” she explains.

The film was shot by fashion photographers Sam Bayer and Jon Glaser, and features several real-life people as cameos. In one scene, the filmmakers asked two real owners of Pan American Avenue to film the characters’ reactions to the music during the snow storm that occurs throughout the film.

Haim, a yoga instructor, says she wanted to incorporate yoga in the film as much as possible, especially since her grandmother taught her to do it.

“For me, it was so important to share that memory of Bakersfield and being just little Alana and going to the house,” she says. “It was my grandma and her three or four grandkids sitting down and playing spades.”

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