"Disney to Film in S.F. Board Chambers"

by Edward Epstein, San Francisco Chronicle, 23 March 1999

In a meeting briefly interrupted by one of the brazen little mice that have invaded City Hall, San Francisco supervisors sided yesterday with the parent company of Mickey Mouse and voted to allow the board's historic chambers to be used for a film shoot.

Yesterday's 8-to-2 vote in favor of Walt Disney Pictures finally ended a two-month-long controversy at the board over whether moviemakers should be allowed to use the chambers in City Hall, which reopened in January after a $300 million makeover.

Well before the vote, one of the mice that are showing up all over City Hall suddenly appeared in the well of the supervisors' chambers and scurried into the area of benches where the public sits. There was a lot of shouting, laughter and climbing onto chairs and benches.

The mouse quickly exited.

The final vote means that Disney will use the ornate chambers for four days in early May to shoot a courtroom scene for "Bicentennial Man," a big-budget science fiction movie starring Robin Williams.

"You better not scratch anything," board President Tom Ammiano jokingly cautioned Disney location manager Rory Enke after the meeting. Ammiano, who voted against the shoot, said he was concerned that the room, lined in priceless Manchurian oak, could be damaged.

Extensive guidelines written over the past few weeks set safeguards on things like the type of lighting that can be used, and food or drink to be banned in the room, and the use of smoke.

The rules also raised the rent that Disney will pay from $5,000 a day to $10,000 for the first day and $20,000 for each subsequent day. Disney plans to use the chambers Thursday through Sunday and get all its equipment out well before the board holds its regular Monday meeting.

Enke said in 22 years as a location manager in San Francisco encompassing 27 films, he had never seen anything like the arguing over the use of the chambers. Asked if he would do it over again, he said, "Never, not in a million years."

Ammiano asked city architect Tony Irons if he was confident that no damage would come to the chambers. "There's always risk," Irons said. "But we have endeavored to write as thorough a set of guidelines as possible."

Supervisor Michael Yaki said he would introduce legislation to ban most commercial movie shooting in the chambers. His plan would allow the room to be used only for films about City Hall or general San Francisco history.

As for the mouse, the city has set snap traps around City Hall to try to kill the rodents, so far with little success. It is also warning workers not to leave food around.

"When we opened City Hall, we graciously invited all the residents of San Francisco," Irons told the supervisors.

©1999 San Francisco Chronicle

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