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Bad Neighbors

Metro
Bruce McBroom

Stopping the Traffic: Eddie Murphy and Thomas Carter filmed on location in San Francisco during the shooting of "Metro."

Hollywood film crews love San Francisco--it's the San Franciscans who give them problems

By Christa Palmer

Last year, a stunt scene shot on the Bay Bridge for George of the Jungle exasperated morning commuters tied up in traffic for hours. Over in North Beach, the filming for Eddie Murphy's current actioner, Metro, so disgruntled residents that some locals took to disrupting scenes by yelling out impromptu R-rated profanities. In the neighborhoods that filmmakers like to use as backdrops, some involuntary extras aren't so willing to quietly endure the obtrusive trailers boxing in their cars, the power generators keeping them awake or the artificial rainstorms soaking their streets.

But they'd better get used to it. The estimated $60 million that the movie industry pumped into San Francisco's economy last year has city officials wooing Hollywood back for some more. And though it's the complaints of aggrieved locals that are most often heard in the media, the production companies that depend on the city's streets for their livelihoods have some gripes of their own. Filmmakers may love San Francisco, but they don't necessarily love the San Franciscans who wreak havoc at location sites in their attempts to drive film crews out of their neighborhoods.

Local production companies are so accustomed to the problem that they're skittish about discussing it in detail, for fear of giving irked neighbors any more ideas. "I don't want to give out good ways to screw a film company," says a reluctant Dan Kemp of the Nash Bridges production crew, "but our main petty annoyance is people tearing down barricades and parking signs. One morning we discovered that the parking signs posted at our Nob Hill location had disappeared. Some people get really disruptive when they spot a blank parking space that a film company has posted a no-parking sign at."

Whether it's a TV show like Nash Bridges, with Don Johnson flying through Nob Hill in his banana-colored muscle car, or a big feature like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, when Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock wander through San Francisco streets on a mission to save the whales, there is some kind of filming going on in San Francisco almost every day of the year. "With any filming you are going to have complaints," says Robin Eickman, director of the San Francisco Film and Video Arts Commission." Residents do have issues when production companies come into their neighborhoods. It's always a juggling act, especially in a congested area such as San Francisco."

Flag hanging and blaring music are two favored disruption tactics of angry locals, according to Eickman. When veteran San Francisco location manager Ellen Winshall was filming an old show named Over My Dead Body, two women cranked irritatingly loud music that apparently resembled something like the sound of cat-calling men, and kept it playing on and off for several days. "They wanted money before agreeing to turn it off. We later had them arrested for extortion," Winshall recalls.

One particularly poetic banner-hanger actually elicited a little admiration from Winshall. During the filming of Jade in Bernal Heights, an angry neighbor waved 'Hollywood, go home. You steal our streets to sell us shadows' outside his home. "I have to admit," confesses Winshall, "if what this guy wrote wasn't so brilliant, we would have asked him to take it down."

Of course, any time a crew brings in trailer after trailer of heavy equipment into a densely populated neighborhood, some problems are inevitable. A crew ranging from 60 to 100 people, complete with power generators, huge equipment, lights, trailers and caterers, is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla, no matter how lightly it treads. "And usually people are quite cooperative," Winshall says. "But there are those rare and annoying instances when someone who hates film companies in general does something to make your life miserable."

Production companies insist they go out of their way to handle residents' complaints. Kemp says that film companies will sometimes offer neighborhood residents valet parking, gift certificates or money. "We've had business owners claim that we've killed their day's worth of business and want us to pay them hundreds of dollars," says Kemp. "They take the position that customers couldn't walk into their stores as easily. If it is apparent that we have obstructed their doorway or signs for parking, then we will give them money, but sometimes people overexaggerate their difficulties, hoping to get monetary compensation."

No account of San Francisco film crew­neighbor tensions could be complete without a mention of the infamous Basic Instinct affair. "Some people were agitated with what they thought was the story line," explains Winshall. "The word out on the streets was that this was an extremely homophobic flick. People vandalized the club that we were using as a location site in the Castro by putting super glue in the locks of the club's doors. They also put super glue in the locks of the club owner's brand-new car."

But obstacles and complaints can also help production companies learn new ways to make a shoot run more smoothly. "We get angry phone calls, like the ones about this year's parasailing stunt, that give us new insights about letting a film crew on a bridge at rush hour," says Eickman. "We want this industry here with the revenue that it generates. Large production crews need hotels, office space and three meals a day. What residents need to be aware of is that the money generated by filming stimulates the city's economy."

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From the February 1997 issue of the Metropolitan

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