“I have always been rather better treated in San Francisco than I actually deserved.” While this quote is attributed to the great Mark Twain, it is surely appropriate when describing the sentiment moviemakers have after visiting the City by the Bay.
And it comes as no surprise that a city with such cinematic qualities imbued within its landmarks and architecture has been the backdrop for decades of priceless movie moments. The Golden Gate Bridge looms in the background as Scottie watches Madeleine attempt suicide by jumping into the San Francisco Bay in Hitchcock’s Vertigo; solar winds bring alien pods to the bleak and grey streets of the city in Invasion of the Body Snatchers; the walls of Alcatraz prove no match for Clint Eastwood as Frank Morris in Escape from Alcatraz; and psychotic serial killers prove likewise inept with Eastwood’s role of badass San Francisco inspector Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry.
But while its ominous cityscape has worked as the perfect backdrop for psychological thrillers and mysteries, it isn’t all just murder, mayhem and cable cars in Frisco. Comedies like So I Married an Axe Murderer, Mrs. Doubtfire, and EDtv have all found homes in San Francisco, giving actors and actresses, like Cameron Diaz in The Sweetest Thing, a chance to dance up and down those slanted streets.
More importantly, however, is the fact that San Francisco has become the movie Mecca for showcasing cultural changes and advancements in human rights—a place where movies and activism merge. With movies like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Psych-Out, which note new cultural transitions, San Francisco has always played a part in said cultural upheaval. With Gus Van Sant’s new movie Milk, starring Sean Penn as San Francisco gay rights activist and the first openly gay man elected to public office in America, Harvey Milk, it’s a part the city is still playing. “All of us felt from the very beginning that San Francisco was a character in the story,” notes producer Bruce Cohen. “The story changed the city forever, and is woven into its history and its fabric.” After working closely with the San Francisco Film Commission and utilizing “Scene in San Francisco,” the city’s film production incentive program that offers refunds on all San Francisco payroll taxes paid and a portion of hotel and sales tax paid to the city during qualified productions, the moviemakers were able to recreate the Castro neighborhood as it appeared in the 1970s. The result is a movie, and city, the entire cast and crew can get behind. “The spirit and energy of this film is San Francisco,” states Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. “The film was made the right way, in the right place.”
With its cinematic landscape constantly setting the backdrop for cultural improvements and human rights activism, San Francisco has its fingers on the pulse of an ever-changing society, giving moviemakers an endless source for their craft.
For more information on making movies in San Francisco, check out http://www.sfgov.org/site/filmcomm_index.asp?id=32161.
Other movies made in San Francisco:
The Pursuit of Happyness
Memoirs of a Geisha
Interview with the Vampire