SF filming of gay HBO show to begin

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Wednesday September 11, 2013
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A new show on HBO about the lives of thirty-something gay men in San Francisco is set to begin filming around town next week.

The series, titled Looking, has been described as a gay version of Girls , the premium cable channel's much buzzed about dramedy featuring the fictionalized lives of four twenty-something female friends in Brooklyn. Some are calling it a less glitzy cousin to HBO's gay-beloved Sex and the City, which went off the air in 2004.

The male-centric offering stars Jonathan Groff of Glee as gay video game developer Patrick who struggles in his social life. Frankie Alvarez, last seen on Smash , will play his best friend, while Murray Bartlett, of Guiding Light, rounds out the trio of leads.

While in town in June at the LGBT film festival Frameline, where he promoted his film C.O.G., based on a story by gay author David Sedaris, Groff half-jokingly asked the audience if anyone knew of an apartment rental for the fall, as he expected to spend three months in town filming the new eight-episode, half-hour series.

According to local locations manager Matthew Riutta, production on Looking will begin Monday, September 16 and run through November 17. The series will have its filming headquarters based in the Mission on 16th Street at Folsom and will be shooting at various locations around the city and Bay Area.

It is the first time a television series has been fully shot on location in San Francisco since the CBS cop show Nash Bridges , starring Don Johnson and Cheech Marin, went off the air in 2001.

"The Bay Area is really blessed to have HBO film entirely in the city," said Riutta during the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro meeting last Thursday. "It is really great for our community in the Castro and the LGBT community."

Riutta, a gay man, also helped scout settings for the Oscar-winning biopic Milk when it filmed in the Castro back in the winter of 2008. Unlike with that shoot, which lasted weeks on end in the gayborhood and required doctoring store facades to resemble the streetscape in the 1970s, Looking is set in the modern day.

It does intend to film in the Castro, as one of the characters, played by Scott Bakula, has been described in entertainment press reports as "an attractive entrepreneur and pillar of the Castro community." But the shoots will be for shorter time periods than were needed for Milk, about the political rise of gay Supervisor Harvey Milk prior to his being murdered in 1978.

"We will not be here for a one-month interval or two-month interval at a time," Riutta told Castro merchants, adding that it will be more sporadic. "The show is not Castro-centric. HBO is trying to showcase the entire Bay Area and not just San Francisco."

Entertainment press reports have Scott Bakula playing a pillar of the Castro community in HBO's new series Looking.

HBO has yet to reveal when the new show will air. Tonya Owens, the publicist for the show, did not respond to the Bay Area Reporter 's request for an interview by press time Wednesday.

Michael Lannan, an associate producer on the 2010 movie Remember Me, is writing and co-executive producing the series, while Andrew Haigh, a gay man who wrote and directed the 2011 British film Weekend, directed the pilot for Looking and is also executive producing, according to published reports.

The pilot was shot earlier this year at various locations around town, including at queer-owned Mission club El Rio.

"I had never stood around drinking soda for so long in a bar," said local queer nightlife impresario Tom Temprano, who served as an unpaid extra in a bar scene for the pilot episode.

Temprano, who is also the current president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, lauded the show's creators for filming in the city and supporting queer-owned businesses by doing so.

As of yet, they have not contacted him about using the bar he co-owns next door to El Rio, called Virgil's Sea Room.

"But we are open," noted Temprano, also known as DJ Carnita.

Susannah Greason Robbins, executive director of the San Francisco Film Commission, also praised the producers of Looking for opting not to use a different city to stand-in for the city-by-the-bay in the series.

"We are really excited to have HBO here," Robbins told Castro merchants last week. "They are having mostly a local crew and local background extras. The impact on San Francisco and your community will be huge."

The series will likely qualify for the city's rebate program for film shoots, and thus qualify for refunds on the various fees paid to city departments, daily usage fees paid to the film commission, and city payroll taxes incurred. For television shows with budgets of $3 million or more to qualify, 65 percent of the principal photography must take place in San Francisco.

If the show is a hit and encourages visits to San Francisco, then the city could recoup the refunded money through tourist spending. Much like when the Castro saw a bounce in tourists due to Milk , film officials predict the gayborhood could see Looking fans flocking to check out businesses and locales featured in the series.

"It will shine a positive light on San Francisco," said Robbins. "The aftereffect for people who see this is they will want to go and check out the place."