Film crew descends on Castro
by Matthew S. Bajko
Hollywood hit town this week and the buzz in the city's gay community over filming of a biopic on the late Supervisor Harvey Milk, the country's first out gay man elected to office, was palpable.
Excitement has been building since Monday when portions of Castro Street in the heart of the gay neighborhood began to resemble what Milk saw when he first arrived in town in the 1970s. Crews have spent the last week recreating Milk's old camera shop near 19th Street at the space that normally is home to gift shop Given.
"There is a buzz in the air. A lot of people are out on the streets wanting to check it out," said Steve Adams, president of the neighborhood's merchant association. "I went to check out the camera shop. It does not look like Given if you look inside there. It looks like 1970s Castro."
A nearby title company has been turned into Aquarius Records, and the Thai restaurant on the corner is now China Court. Across the street Swirl wine shop is now home to McConnely Wine & Liquors.
Wednesday saw a recreation for the facade of Toad Hall, known as a "gay hippie bar," replace part of 440 Castro, the bar formerly known as Daddy's. More changes are in store and will be put in place when filming several outdoor scenes takes place.
"People are super excited. A lot of awnings are coming down and signs are changing," said Susan Alegria, the film's assistant art director. "For a lot of it we have to wait till the last minute. We don't want to stop the business on the street."
Alegria, born and raised in San Francisco, used to live in the Castro area but now lives in Oakland. She said many people who work in the local film industry are excited to see the movie be filmed entirely in the city.
"Everyone is really happy they didn't decide to do this someplace else," she said. "Everyone is ecstatic we have a film here in San Francisco."
Wednesday night workers revealed the redone facade and sign of the Castro Theatre, which was repainted to match how it looked four decades ago. It is the first time since the 1980s that the theater sign has been repainted and the neon completely restored.
"That sign has been in disarray for years. Just having that working properly is going to be great," said Adams, who said the area's rainbow flags have all been removed from light poles along Castro and 18th streets due to the filming. "New ones will go up after filming is done on Market and Castro streets."
The film, titled Milk, is being produced by out producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen and directed by openly gay Gus Van Sant. Bay Area native Sean Penn is playing Milk. Beginning today (Thursday, January 24) shooting is expected to move inside the camera shop. [For more on the producers, see the Arts and Entertainment section.]
Shooting for the movie kicked off Monday, January 21 at the firehouse where then-Supervisor Dan White, who assassinated Milk and then-Mayor George Moscone inside their City Hall offices in November of 1978, once worked as a firefighter. Known as Engine Company 43, it is located at 720 Amazon Street.
Milk confidante Cleve Jones, who has been on set all week as a consultant on the film, said he felt a sign from his old friend that morning.
"At 8:25 in the morning just about, they begin rolling the cameras for the first time on Milk. It was pouring rain, and just moments before the cameras went on, the clouds parted, the sun shown through and an enormous rainbow peered through above us," said Jones. "There were a lot of moist eyes in the group."
Emile Hirsch is playing Jones, who created the AIDS quilt in the 1980s, in the film. Jones did shoot a cameo role as Don Amador, another friend of Harvey's who helped him fight an anti-gay ballot measure in the 1970s, Tuesday on a sound stage on Treasure Island.
"One of the things that has been very lovely about the experience, thus far, for those of us being portrayed in the film is we had an opportunity not only to meet the actors who are playing us but to really spend time with them," said Jones. "I am amazed at how sweet, smart and hard-working everyone is with this production."
Jones said seeing Josh Brolin in full makeup as White was "horrifying" at first.
"He walked by me and looked at me and said, 'The look on your face tells me everything I need to know.' Obviously, the murder itself is going to be very painful," said Jones. "Already, there have been so many really poignant moments. I think it is going to be an extraordinary film."
The production will shoot several scenes inside City Hall's Rotunda and basement area. The Board of Supervisors is expected to sign off on the movie crew's request to shoot inside the board chambers at its meeting Tuesday.
Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who will appear in the film as himself, said he has been told his scenes will be shot in February. He has already heard from the movie's costumers.
"They asked me what my sizes are. I asked them for what? Thirty-five years ago it was a 22 waist," joked Ammiano.
The public will also have a chance to appear in the movie as the film crew is seeking people over the age of 18 for several marches they will be recreating in February. Filming will take place from 7 p.m. to midnight Monday, February 4 at Castro and Market streets and from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday, February 8 at Market and Franklin.
Prior to the Monday, February 4 shoot, the production will host a screening of the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk at 4:30 p.m. at the Castro Theatre. Joining the film's director, Rob Epstein, will be Jones, Van Sant, and members of the cast. Filming will begin immediately after the screening.
Participants can sign up for either night at the Web site http://www.milkmarch.com.