"Disney: Lights, Camera — Wait,
S.F. Supervisors Put Off Vote Over Use of City Hall"


by Jason B. Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle, 2 March 1999

With criticism growing over Walt Disney Pictures' bid to rent the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' historic chambers to shoot a Robin Williams film, supervisors yesterday postponed voting on the issue for a week.

Disney would pay $5,000 per day to use the City Hall chambers for four days this spring for filming of "Bicentennial Man." The delay in the supervisors' vote will allow supporters to add more safeguards designed to protect the chambers and set guidelines for future filming there, in hopes of allaying the concerns of some wavering supervisors.

Supervisors Michael Yaki and Mabel Teng had worried that the details of the agreement were not part of the resolution granting Disney access to the board chambers.

"If we allow Disney to use it, what would be our policy regarding other film companies that might be doing movies with violence (or bigoted themes)?" asked Teng.

Yaki said City Hall should not be used as "a sound stage for whoever pays the freight."

"I am having significant problems with the way City Hall is being marketed," Yaki told his fellow supervisors. "We've spent a fair amount of money restoring this historic chamber.

"I (also) resent the fact that we've been pushed into this time limit," Yaki said. "We should have debated this many months before."

Supervisor Sue Bierman said City Hall belongs to the people, not just the Board of Supervisors.

"I hope that we wouldn't be too restrictive," Bierman said.

Proponents of the project believe it will show the film industry that San Francisco is a good place for making movies and will help generate millions of dollars in revenue for the city.

The board's ornate chambers, lined in Manchurian oak, have been used only once before in a movie, the 1989 film "Class Action" starring Gene Hackman.

Supervisor Leslie Katz, who proposed the measure, moved for the delay once it looked like the deal was in jeopardy.

Katz said safeguards would be included in the final contract, including $100,000 worth of bonds and insurance for the chambers.

Disney has also offered to bring in a preservationist to oversee the work, Katz said.

Katz said more than a week's delay could be a problem for movie officials.

"I'm hoping that one week will be enough," said board President Tom Ammiano. "There's a lot of nooks and crannies here to be explained."

"Bicentennial Man," based on a novel by the late Isaac Asimov, is a science fiction story set 200 years in the future in which Williams plays a robot who wants to become a man. The film will be Disney's Christmas 1999 feature.

Almost all of the movie will be shot in the Bay Area. A few hundred union workers are already busy building sets and doing other preliminary work before shooting starts.

Ed Raymond, local representative of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, said that for his members alone, the production means $8 million to $10 million in wages.

The mayor's administration supports the movie being shot at City Hall.

©1999 San Francisco Chronicle



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