"Resistance Builds to Filming at City Hall,
Disney Request to Use Historic Chamber in Movie May Run up Against Red Tape"

by Rachel Johnson, San Francisco Examiner, 26 February 1999

Walt Disney Pictures may find its pitch to film a scene for an upcoming Robin Williams movie in San Francisco City Hall's historic legislative chamber red-taped to death.

Supervisor Michael Yaki plans to introduce a resolution Monday that would forbid any commercial filming in the room until guidelines are put in place to "protect its historic features and architectural integrity." Yaki is calling for the creation of a blue-ribbon task force to come up with a plan.

"This isn't just a question of may they film there, but what they must they do if they do film there," Yaki said Thursday.

Disney wants to shoot a courtroom scene for "Bicentennial Man" — a film about a robot played by Williams fighting for civil rights — in the elaborate, Manchurian oak-lined chamber for four or five days in April or June. To prepare for the production, a couple of dozen chairs and benches would be removed, as well as perhaps a couple of tables and the clerk's desk. Some free-standing modern set pieces would be brought into the room. Special set lighting would bathe the chamber.

The company would pay The City $5,000 a day for use of the room, plus another $300 a day for a Film Commission permit to film in City Hall, San Francisco's 84-year-old civic showcase that recently underwent a $293 million renovation.

The two location managers for the movie vowed in a letter to San Francisco supervisors that great effort would be made to care for the room and its furnishings.

"It is important to us to use care to protect this delicate room that is of such importance to this community," they said.

Location manager Rory Enke said in an interview that he will use a moving company that handles museum installations to help with the project. Enke served in the same role 10 years ago when the last movie — "Class Action" — was filmed in the chamber. He and city officials who were around at the time said that shoot went smoothly.

While Yaki is resistant to the idea, Supervisor Leslie Katz will introduce a resolution Monday to start negotiations between city officials and Disney to allow the movie shoot.

"We will make sure that whoever uses the facility has measures in place to protect it," Katz said. She said she is confident that a professional movie company with Disney's reputation would have the intention and know-how to make sure no damage is done, or that if anything bad did happen accidentally, repairs would be made.

Yaki said he is looking for guidelines that might include a ban on removing objects from the room and restricting the length of time the bright, hot set lights could be used. He's proposing the task force include the president of the Board of Supervisors, the clerk of the board, the city architect and the head of the mayor's film office, or their designees.

Already, three of the four proposed members — all but the film office chief — have expressed concerns about movie-making in the recently restored chamber. City Architect Tony Irons, one of those with reservations, described the chamber as the second-most important feature in the nationally landmarked City Hall building after its soaring rotunda.

Steve Nelson, The City's director of administrative services, whose office oversees City Hall rentals, said he has no problems with Disney's proposal and believes crews would adequately protect the building. However, he added, the decision on what to do rests entirely with the Board of Supervisors, which has control over the room.

Yaki didn't know if his proposal would kill Disney's desire to use the room for "Bicentennial Man," but he said it most likely would alter the company's plans and could delay them. Yaki's colleagues have not signed off on his resolution.

Carole Isaacs, acting director of the film office, said she hopes the board doesn't pull up the welcome mat on Disney and give The City the reputation as a place unfriendly to the movie industry.

"San Francisco is extremely film-friendly," Yaki said. "But let's not just go ahead when someone offers us money to say, "OK, just please don't break the furniture.' The integrity of City Hall is more important than that."

©1999 San Francisco Examiner

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