We’re Ready for our Close-up -- San Francisco in the Movies
February 2, 2011 – Photogenic San Francisco has always been a muse to great film makers. Beyond being a favorite of director Alfred Hitchcock, who used the Bay Area as a setting for three of his films, Bay Area-based directors such as Chris Columbus, Philip Kaufman, Peter Weir and David Fincher have also featured “the City by the Bay” in starring roles. “Vertigo” and “Bullit" are two of the best known films featuring San Francisco,” but other box office hits include “Basic Instinct,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “So I Married an Axe Murderer,” and, more recently, “Pursuit of Happyness” and “Milk.”
Although cities featured in films do not earn Academy Awards for their visual appeal, the economic impact of having a city as the setting of a major motion picture is quite significant. In addition, just as the characters in a film live on through eternity, so does the city where the movie is filmed. As a result, San Francisco has become a Hollywood legend and the screen shots have become time capsules and travelogues for both historians and visitors.
The San Francisco Film Commission: A Boost for the Local Economy and Tourism
Movies filmed in San Francisco not only boost the economy with the jobs they provide, they draw much welcomed visitors, which benefits the tax base and allows greater infrastructure for residents to enjoy. Susannah Greason Robbins, the new executive director of the San Francisco Film Commission, leads the team responsible for attracting film productions to San Francisco and overseeing the permitting process.
“My goal is to make it easier and more cost effective to film in San Francisco,” states Robbins. “This includes simplifying the permit process and providing production companies with discount options on local hotels, restaurants and other vendors.” The San Francisco Film Commission’s new “Scene in San Francisco” rebate program gives back up to $600,000 per film or television series to qualified productions. Robbins hopes that this program, combined with the new vendor discount offers and future discounts in post-production costs, will make filming in San Francisco more affordable, and ultimately, more desirable.
“In 2010, the film office issued 348 permits for 745 shooting days. Permits were issued for everything from features, documentaries, commercials, TV series, still photo shoots, web productions and corporate/short productions,” added Robbins. It is estimated that those productions injected more than $135 million dollars into the local economy.
Matt Stiker, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the San Francisco Travel Association, agrees that each movie filmed in San Francisco has both an immediate financial impact on the local economy and an on-going, long-term impact on tourism. “People want to visit the city they see showcased on the big screen, especially when the city is as beautiful and enticing as San Francisco.”
San Francisco as a “Hollywood Legend:” Fifty-Two Years Later, Vertigo is Still a Star
Few films are as synonymous with San Francisco as Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” recognized as a "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" film by the United States Library of Congress. Originally released in theaters in 1958, “Vertigo” came in second in British magazine’s “100 Greatest Movies of All Time” in 2005.
According to Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal in their book, “Footsteps in the Fog,” Hitchcock felt that San Francisco would be an ideal location for a murder mystery. “San Francisco’s tall buildings, twisting staircases and dramatic bridges made it an ideal setting for ‘Vertigo’…the blend of the city’s unique character with Hitchcock’s keen ability to weave a sinister tale creates a brilliant psychological suspense film,” they wrote.
The filming of “Vertigo” wasn’t confined to the tall buildings of the city, however. Hitchcock also shot several scenes at some of San Francisco’s well-known historic Spanish missions, and even brought the crew to the towering local redwoods north of the city in Marin County.
Movies: Time Capsules of San Francisco
Movies filmed in San Francisco are also time capsules that showcase what was important during those eras, while providing a glimpse into the city’s evolution and transformation.
The most dramatic change to San Francisco’s skyline was a result of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Films shot before 1989, including “D.O.A.,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Bullit” showcase the Embarcadero freeway, which obscured the San Francisco waterfront. After the earthquake, and the demolition of the concrete structure, San Francisco’s waterfront was able to take center stage, and from that point on, films showed a different, more modern city with high rises and open spaces.
However, Robbins of the San Francisco Film Commission believes San Francisco is attractive to film makers because on one hand it can be easily recognized by its icons and waterfront, but equally it can represent multiple cities around the world based on its diverse architecture and landscape. For example, while the HBO movie “Hemingway and Gellhorn,” starring Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen, will be filmed in San Francisco, the city will be act as the backdrop for many locations, including Shanghai, Spain, Havana and Key West, FL.
Movies: Travelogues of San Francisco
Location Manager Rory Enke, who worked on films shot in San Francisco including “Pursuit of Happyness,” “The Hulk,” and “Bicentennial Man,” remembers when he saw “Bullit” as a young child: “I had never been to San Francisco and I thought, ‘I’ve got to see that place!’”
Film buffs often scout out the filming locations of their favorite movies to obtain a sense of place and a bit of nostalgia. Matt Stiker from San Francisco Travel notes, “Visitors come to San Francisco for a variety of reasons, and are influenced by a number of factors – we think movies filmed here are one of the big ways people make that decision.”
According to Stiker, the volunteers at San Francisco Travel’s Visitor Information Center, located at 900 Market St., are regularly asked for directions to the house where “Mrs. Doubtfire” lived (2640 Steiner St.) or where “Vertigo’s” Scotty rescues Madeleine after she jumps into the bay (Fort Point).
It’s a Wrap
The San Francisco Travel Association has a 30-minute stock footage library that includes both scenic and iconic shots, including cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. All film permits must be obtained from the San Francisco Film Commission. To receive a filming permit, or for additional questions about permits, please contact Laurel Bettike Barsotti, San Francisco Film Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or by calling 415.554.6241 or visiting www.filmsf.org. For a complete list of movies filmed in San Francisco visit http://filmsf.org/index.aspx?page=24
San Francisco Movie Tours takes visitors to the sites where movies were filmed; shows clips from the films; and provides fun background trivia. For additional information about San Francisco Movie Tours, visit www.sanfranciscomovietours.com, or contact Bryan Rice at 415-624-4949 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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For general information on hotel packages and reservations; events; activities and transportation in San Francisco, visit www.sanfrancisco.travel. For lodging reservations, call 800-637-5196 within North America or 415-391-2000 or 415-392-0328 (TTY/TTD) elsewhere.
The San Francisco Visitors Planning Guide is available at the Visitor Information Center, 900 Market St., at the corner of Powell and Market streets, lower level, Hallidie Plaza. A virtual edition of the guide is also available online: http://guides.weaver-group.com/sf/ovg2/2010/A visitor's kit may also be ordered online at www.sanfrancisco.travel, by phone at 415-391-2000 or 415-392-0328 (TTY/TTD), by written request to the San Francisco Visitor Information Center, 900 Market St., San Francisco, CA 94102, or via email to email@example.com. Domestic and international shipping charges apply.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) offers non-stop links with more than 30 international points on five continents with 29 international carriers. The Bay Area's largest airport connects non-stop with more than 65 cities in the U.S. on 20 domestic airlines. For up-to-the-minute departure and arrival information, airport maps and details on shopping, dining, cultural exhibitions, ground transportation and more, visit www.flysfo.com.
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Note to editors: To access and download images from the San Francisco Travel Association online photo gallery, click on the link http://www.sfcvb.org/travel_media/photolibrary.asp.
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