Wednesday, March 29, 2006

tread lightly, film industry, when bringing your junk to San Francisco

"The Evidence" is a new television drama trying to be too many things at the same time. It has all the colors and poppy editing of "CSI", it has the gritty cop-and-partner edge of "Law & Order", and just about every other trope of your typical episodic criminal justice procedural you can find. Because all these things are so easily identifiable, and because of unchallenging writing, "The Evidence" is trying too hard, and at the end of the day it just isn't a good TV show. This is not it's highest crime, though. The show takes place and is shot (to some extent) in San Francisco. The only reason for this (evident after these first two episodes, after which I will not continue) is because of its scenery, its diversity, and all the other things that makes San Francisco seem like a good place for a show to take place in. It's all-too-clear that the city is being used and not utilized.

A show like "Grey's Anatomy" for instance, uses Seattle delicately; it acts as an interchangeable city. The show could take place anywhere else in the country, and the scripts respect this.... they're not going out on the streets or laboring past landmarks in every episode because it isn't necessary to do so. However, Seattle provides a comfortable backdrop, and in some respects pays respect to that city as a pleasant place for the story.... and that's where it ends. Another somewhat recent medical drama, "Presidio Med", albeit short-lived, treated San Francisco similarly as "Grey's Anatomy" treats Seattle; if they can't use the city as a focus, they use it only as establishing-shot setting.

I absolutely do not object to the film/television industry choosing to shoot in San Francisco, particularly because it brings revenue to the city and thereby helps the toruism industry. In fact, San Francisco has seen a decline recently in film industry interest.... I'm not so sure "Nash Bridges" counts. What I do object to is using the city (er, The City) as a dumping ground for a crappy unremarkable procedural show like "The Evidence" in the guise of paying respect to it. This show is trying so so hard to screech past every San Francisco landmark (including CGI-ing shots of the Bay Bridge flying over, in the wrong direction no less, supposed-waterfront locales that the Bay Bridge happens to be nowhere near), it cheapens the effect. Characters say useless throw-away lines such as "...from here to the Farallones" and mention the Glen Park precinct of SFPD.... they even created a ficitonal San Francisco Gazette for a crossword puzzle as evidence, feh. When we first meet the two leads in the pilot, they are playing golf on some fictional garbage scow/wharf with the Golden Gate Bridge sailing behind them, kicking smashed aluminum cans and walking past dirty chain link fences and panhandlers. In reality, where they chose to film (Crissy Field), garbage and metal fences are nowhere to be found.... instead there are beautiful sand dunes and grassy lawns, usually with joggers and stroller-pushing moms enjoying their afternoon by the bay. In their disgusting attempt to make San Francisco seem gritty while getting that landmark money shot in the background, they wanted to up the grunge factor. Why not shoot in Hunter's Point, then.... or the Tenderloin? I have a feeling that the producers are averse to having their actors witness homeless transsexuals peeing on street corners. Now that would be gritty television.

What's the point of the show? It's not about San Francisco, it's about "the evidence" of crimes in San Francisco that could just as easily be found anywhere else in the world.... why not set this show in Houston, St. Louis, Atlanta? The producers sat around some mahogany table and decided to choose somewhere sexy, and somewhere that stands out.... and because New York is overused, they threw the dart at San Francisco.

I'm no expert on the history of San Francisco in the movies and TV.... but others have come and succeeded, using San Francisco as the right kind of backdrop. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), for instance, is almost a love letter to San Francisco, taking advantage of its ups and downs and letting the scenery shots come naturally and not be overused. This may be because both the director (Chris Columbus) and the star (Robin Williams.... why wasn't he Oscar nominated?) are San Franciscans. They filmed the movie with love for the city in mind, not as some any-city with sexy scenery.

Maybe I've contradicted myself above, or made the argument a little muddled. I have a high standard for San Francisco (could you tell?), and it's disappointing when Hollywood misses the bar. This is my own thing, though.... clearly I'm sensitive, but only because I love The City so much.

my old neighborhood.... *sigh*


J.J. Gittes said...

Two words: The Rock.

is that so wrong? said...

I used to live mere blocks from that scene in The Rock where the cable car slides down the hill and blows up. Continutity problem: no cable cars run on that street; the hill it slides down is perpendicular to actual cable car tracks. This is a good example of an action movie maxim: if your action movie takes place in San Francisco, you must either a) have a cable car explode, or (depending if your film is sci-fi or you have some extra money in the CGI budget) b) destroy the Golden Gate Bridge. On a related topic, I wish that X-Men 3 was not taking place in San Francisco.

It should be noted that cable cars do not run on any fuel or have vast electrical circuitry, therefore a cable car blowing up in a plume of fire is just not possible.

Writeprocrastinator said...

"therefore a cable car blowing up in a plume of fire is just not possible."

Of course it's possible, you have to follow action movie physics is all. Cars can do 60 mph jumps off hills and, suspensions and drivetrains are unaffected.

People can leap through the air firing guns and not accidentally shoot themselves or their allies when they land.

Nick Cage can handle toxic agents barehanded without a second thought of triggering them. I mean, reality and real physics only slow things down and bum the audience out.