New Film Synopsis

Now that we’ve completed our first rough cut edit, we’ve decided to write a new film synopsis as well. It describes the general story of the documentary and how we’re telling it. Have a read, and we hope you are as enthralled about viewing the final cut as we are. Enjoy:

“I would have been more or less than human if I’d not gone mad like the rest. Solid Silver Bricks!”
Mark Twain

The Gold Rush of 1849—ask what the signature period in the history of San Francisco is and you will invariably get this answer. And yet there is another period that is far less known—a period of even more frenzied pursuit of wealth, of larger-than-life titans battling for dominance, of a lasting impact on the Far West and on the United States as a whole. This is the story of the Bonanza Age—the discovery and exploitation of silver between 1859 and 1880—and how it transformed San Francisco into a world-class city, a CITY OF WHITE GOLD.

By 1859 the Gold Rush is over, but miner Henry Comstock and his colleagues are not giving up. While prospecting east of the Sierra Nevada they come upon gold. Sadly this gold is mixed in with a blue-black mud that obstructs their ability to get at the precious metal. They send a sample of the mud to California for testing: it assays out at $500 a ton in gold, but over $3000 a ton in silver.

And so begins the discovery of the Comstock Lode and the ensuing silver rush, a twenty-year period of boom and bust, of all walks of life caught up in a stock-buying mania, of fortunes made and lost. During the Gold Rush the 49ers were able to excavate surface deposits. But this silver rush is different: the ore bodies lie scattered deep within the ground, sometimes thousands of feet below. It calls for a new type of mining: capital and labor intensive hardrock mining.

Enter the story’s major players: William Chapman Ralston, a riverboat clerk-turned-banker who creates the Bank of California to provide the capital needed to finance the mining; William Sharon, a high-stakes poker player and Ralston’s partner who opens a branch of the bank on the Comstock; a group of Irishmen led by miner John MacKay that challenges the Ralston monopoly; and engineer Adolph Sutro, who has plans for a four mile underground tunnel to ventilate the mines.

Drama ensues. Ralston’s monopoly thrives, and he channels profits into developing his home city. Golden Gate Park, the cable car system, the Victorian architecture boom—all benefit from his largesse. But problems also arise: labor riots; devastating stock market volatility; challenges from “The Irishmen” and from Sutro; and treachery against Ralston by his own partner Sharon.

By 1880 most of these stories come to an unfortunate end: Ralston overextends his empire, is discovered to have embezzled from his own bank, and then dies mysteriously; Sharon takes over Ralston’s assets, only to be taken over himself by a sex scandal dubbed “Trial of the Century;” Sutro completes his tunnel but, thanks to the interference of other silver titans, reaches it too late—the Comstock bonanzas are entirely depleted (he later, however, has the pleasure of becoming mayor of San Francisco and one of its greatest benefactors).

But for all its highs and lows, the one constant of the Bonanza Age is that the groundwork was laid for San Francisco becoming the cosmopolitan metropolis it is today, with a widespread reach across the nation and across oceans. CITY OF WHITE GOLD is a historical documentary that will tell this story through narration, interviews with historians, and first-person voiceover accounts quoted by actors. We will watch the explosive growth of the Far West through a treasure trove of archival photos and illustrations, animated graphics, and reenactments. We will travel to the haunting site of the Comstock Lode and inside its mysterious mines. We will hear songs of the period and rich Sound Design that capture the vibrancy of the place and time.

Far from being a dry history lesson, CITY OF WHITE GOLD will be a visually stunning and dramatic window into this crucial period of San Francisco history for PBS viewers, students, history lovers, and simply anyone who wants a fresh perspective on their extraordinary American heritage.

Published in: on September 2, 2015 at 4:03 am  Leave a Comment  

“Tour de Force” Evening

Last week I presented the film-in-progress and its fascinating story details to the San Francisco Corral of Westerners International. I was deeply touched by their reaction and feedback. They tuned into exactly what I and the documentary are trying to convey! Here’s the testimonial in full for you to enjoy:

I want to thank you again for last week’s dinner talk, which turned out to be a memorable high point in the Corral’s event schedule so far this year. Both the film and your presentation were thoroughly top notch, and there is agreement your well-crafted film and skillfully delivered commentary exceeded our expectations–which were notably high based on the buzz we’d heard.

Afterward, many members remarked about your lively and thoughtful interpretive remarks that superbly highlighted the people and historical events presented in your work-in-progress sample reel.  Members I spoke with were unanimously impressed with your production team’s artfully chosen visuals, well-lit and constructed interview sequences, and blended sound design and cinematic depictions that brought the period to life.  Your team’s vivid animated graphics, to select one aspect of your depiction, strikingly conveyed a sense of the impressive scale of the miles of narrow mining tunnels and shafts and the rigors of miners descending into the scorching depths.

The production’s adeptly woven-in scholarly interviews provided lively insights into the Comstock barons’ creation of fabled Gilded Age opulence, their mining innovations, and their bold self-serving financial schemes, while balancing them against various of the empire builders’ civic building achievements and philanthropy. The evening was a tour de force which we much appreciate.

We look forward to learning of the completion of the full-length film which promises to take a noteworthy place henceforth in our cultural life for widespread audiences and fans of the Gilded West, an unmatched colorful and larger-than-life epoch in the remarkably rich history of San Francisco and the West.

Posse Trail Boss”

Published in: on April 8, 2014 at 3:21 am  Leave a Comment  

Piecing the Story Together, Literally

“What’s happening with City of White Gold these days?” you might be asking. Well…these last few months are all about paper editing /1st draft scripting. After we completed filming 10 interviews, it was time to transcribe those clips into written words in order to create the script. So, for example, biographer Michael Makley’s spoken words on camera…


…are transcribed into words on a page.


The scenes are structured from these transcripts. The interviews are the heart of the documentary script. It starts with sorting all transcripts into subjects and themes, and then mixing together the most compelling ones from the multiple interviews in anticipation of developing a scene, as such:


The next step is to sort through the mix to find the soundbites and story flow:


And then, literally, the scenes are pieced together, soundbite by soundbite.


In the end, the 1st draft script is laid out piece by piece, scene by scene, act by act, until the story is complete.


The paper edit will be the source for assembling the first visual edit. That’s the next phase. Narration and 1st person accounts will also be added (although, some basic narration is happily being written during the initial scripting). It’s very exciting to see all of the various details blend together into one fascinating, dramatic, and compelling story.


Published in: on May 23, 2013 at 1:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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Author Makley speaks on Western Robber Baron

The intrigue begins! Check out this 1-minute interview clip about William Sharon, the infamous King of the Comstock and robber baron of the Wild West.

To view more videos, go to

Comstock Stamp Mill in Action

Watch this video footage of the Arizona Stamp Mill from our scouting trip to Virginia City. Mills were key to extracting silver and gold from rock, ore and sediment of the deep Comstock mines.

“William Sharon learned that the mills are where you earn the money. In the mine, there’s gonna be thousands of shares of stock. The mills, it was primarily him and Ralston. The mills would operate for 24 hours a day. The mine was using up its profits paying the mills for doing this milling.”

–Michael Makley, author of ‘William Sharon: The Infamous King of the Comstock.’

Published in: on November 29, 2012 at 11:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Photos from The Comstock

Hi All!

New photos to check out from last month’s film shoot in Virginia City and the Comstock Lode. We shot interviews with Ronald James,  Comstock mining history expert, in the Fourth Ward School of 1876, and Michael Makley, Comstock biographies expert, in the historic Piper’s Opera House. We also figured, while we were there, might as well film in a historic Comstock mine: the Chollar-Potosi. It provides an inside look at the Comstock’s unique interior structure. Enjoy the pics!

Back from the Comstock

I’m finally beginning to feel normal again after the intensity of planning for and shooting at the Comstock Lode last week. On Tuesday, four of us hoofed video camera and heavy equipment down a 4 hundred+ foot tunnel (called an adit, in mining terms) to film inside a Comstock mine (called: stope). We were in there filming for five hours. If a rock fell, we got a little nervous. I knocked my head at least 10 times, fortunately wearing a hard hat. But the pain was worth it; we got some really cool looking mine footage.

After filming down in the mine, I can’t help but to think about our connection to the earth. It is a natural connection. We share our dependence on it with all other creatures. Mother earth: nurturer and provider. Yet the value we place on its precious metals is strictly human. We will risk lives and pillage the earth in order to grab as much of that silver and gold as deemed necessary to enrich ourselves and our cultures. It has been the same relationship throughout history. The technology and circumstances change over the ages, but the psychology stays the same.

We also filmed two interviews in Virginia City, Nevada, which is the old mining town located directly above the legendary lode. We interviewed Ronald James, Nevada historical preservation officer, in the historic Fourth Ward School museum, about the early founders, about Comstock geology, and about mining the Lode in the Bonanza Age. We interviewed author Michael Makley, who has written about the major players of the saga. Interviewed in the historic Piper Opera House, Mr. Makley was full of anecdotes about Sharon, Ralston, the Bonanza Kings, and Adolph Sutro.

I look forward to posting pics and videos once I have the time to sort through everything.



Published in: on September 27, 2012 at 1:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Scouting in Virginia City

We just got back from a scouting trip in the Sierra Nevada mountains and Virginia City, Nevada. We spent our first day up in the mountains, looking for pathways traversed by 19th century pioneers to and from San Francisco and the Comstock Lode.

The second day was spent finding the perfect light for filming Virginia City and its surrounding landscape. The soft light of the sun changes so fast over the Comstock mining town, which sits unprotected against the barren Mount Davidson, that one must be in the right place at the right time to capture it in ideal lighting conditions.

Director of Photography Lazlo Zsigmond and I spent the afternoon in a Comstock mine, led through narrow spaces by mine owner Chris Kiechler.

We took pages of technical and logistical notes for upcoming filming–which camera to use? how many lights? what size crew?

On the third day we met with future interviewee Ronald James, an authority on Virginia City history, who helped us find interiors for planned upcoming interviews.

We located at least three excellent locations to choose from. We also checked out a couple of old Comstock mills. Mills were essential to the mining process: huge equipment-filled warehouses where ore was crushed to pieces, in order to extract silver and gold from rock and earth.

We returned from Comstock territory, site of historical silver bonanzas, excited about the prospect of filming there in the near future. This scouting trip was made possible thanks in part to a grant from the Nevada Humanities.

Published in: on June 11, 2012 at 7:26 am  Leave a Comment  

SFHA Presentation Testimonial

I recently presented the film-in-progress and its story to an engaged audience at San Francisco History Association. (The organization has previously donated funds to the film, making it possible to film in Golden Gate Park.) They later graciously sent a letter of thanks. I would like to share with you excerpts from the very kind letter :

“Dear Geordie,

You wowed them!! An excellent presentation! Heard that you represented one of the ‘Up and coming historians from the younger generation.’ You must be very proud of your work and how you presented yourself. I liked how you mixed in the 4 films into your dialog. The personal touch of reading the letter from Charles De Long was lovely.

If ‘silver provided the inspiration for growth,’ I think you will provide the inspiration for the story of silver. Yours was a most informative and interesting presentation. Thank you for sharing with us your knowledge, your research, your filming ability and obviously your enthusiasm and keen interest in this part of our infamous history.


Kit Haskell
Speaker Coordinator”

Published in: on March 28, 2012 at 2:07 am  Leave a Comment  

City of White Gold February Presentation

City of White Gold February Presentation

Geordie Lynch will be presenting the documentary-in-progress at San Francisco History Association, February 28th, 2012, 7:30pm (doors open at 7:00pm). Click the link to their website for details.