"Milk" biopic brings '70s vibe to San Francisco

Fri Feb 1, 2008 2:57am EST
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By Borys Kit

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - If you happen to be doing a little shopping on Castro Street in San Francisco and notice that the stores seem to be a bit more psychedelic than usual, fear not. You're not having an acid flashback or entering a time warp; you're on the set of "Milk."

In mid-January Gus Van Sant began shooting his biopic about America's first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, a San Francisco supervisor who was assassinated in 1978 along with Mayor George Moscone by recently resigned San Francisco Supervisor Dan White. Sean Penn is playing Milk, and Josh Brolin plays White in the Focus Features/Groundswell production.

Milk operated a camera store on Castro Street and was known as the Mayor of Castro Street, a roughly two-block shopping district in the San Francisco neighborhood of the same name. The production has taken over the area, turning back the clock to represent the years of the 1970s, when the Castro shifted from being a hippie hangout to a gay mecca. The production has meticulously re-created signs from the area, and even the garbage cans are from the time period.

"We've done an enormous amount of research to ensure that we are only going to have a sign for a business that was open in the year the scene takes place," said Dan Jinks, one of the film's producers.


The production hunkered down in San Francisco's Gay and Lesbian Archives and talked to plenty of people from Milk's world. They even hired a former employee from Milk's camera store, Daniel Nicoletta, as a consultant; he not only worked with Milk but also took "tons" of photographs of the activist and the neighborhood.

One of the project's biggest coups is that it's shooting in Milk's actual camera store. The storefront is now a gift shop, so the production had to buy the place out for a couple of months in order to transform it to a '70s-era business, under the watchful eye of production designer Bill Groom.

That would have been impossible had the film kept its original start date of November 2007, because the shop would not have wanted to give up holiday sales. But now, in what is the slowest part of the retail season, the store's owners were more amenable.   Continued...