Other People's Money

Plans to turn the Presidio Theater into a health club fall through

Other People's Money In a surprising reversal, Gorilla Sports withdrew its Planning Commission application to expand its health club at 2324 Chestnut St. into the Presidio Theater next door. (Century Theaters will cease operations at the Presidio when its lease expires in mid-2003 -- if not sooner.) The conditional-use application, developed and filed by the Bally Total Fitness subsidiary, called for the removal of seats and other interior alterations while leaving the exterior largely intact. If the plan sounds familiar, that's because it replicates Gorilla's conversion of the shuttered Alhambra theater on Polk -- a project that went over budget, according to Gorilla's land-use attorney, Brett Gladstone. "As a result, this triggered the re-evaluation of the expenses to convert the Presidio Theater into a health club," Gladstone says. "Gorilla found that the cost would be prohibitive given the expected income from expansion."

Gorilla's plans for the Presidio had ignited a mini-brouhaha in the Marina, dividing merchants and residents. According to one Planning Department staffer, "They knew it was an uphill battle because of neighbor opposition." But Gladstone waves that off. "We had over 500 signatures [in favor of the gym], and we think we would have had a successful Planning Commission hearing had we chosen to go forward," he says. Bianchi Joint Venture, the Presidio's landlord, is now weighing other proposals.

Blazing Saddles S.F. filmmaker Brien Burroughs (Suckerfish) has only two weekends of filming left on his second improvised feature comedy, Security, but the process is more complicated than it sounds. "I just finished my taxes, and with my return, I feel very confident to schedule one weekend," he confides. But until Burroughs antes up several thousand dollars to the company transferring his 35mm footage to tape -- then watches and edits it -- he won't know exactly what gaps he needs to fill during that second weekend. "It's what the pros would call "pickups,'" Burroughs explains. "We would call it "oopsies': "Oops, these people are in love, but we forgot to shoot them meeting each other.'"

Security is about two graveyard-shift guards at a candy company who discover a smuggling operation and murder. "It's also a nonsexual love story between two men, in the western tradition," Burroughs reveals. "No one's doing a John Wayne imitation, but the code of the west is something we think about." About his and his actors' commitment to improvisation, Burroughs says, "There's more confidence the second time that this is a viable way to make movies. With Suckerfish, we pretended to have more control over the performances. Here we're not doing that at all."

At $45 per shooting minute, 35mm film is costly, so the price of Security is high. "Recession and war have made it a difficult environment to be fund-raising in," Burroughs concedes. "Of course, it's also brilliant timing to be doing a film about security guards." To raise the dough, Burroughs is selling 400 of his landscape photographs at $100 apiece. They're on display in the lobby of the Bayfront Theater at Fort Mason, where his actors (from local improv troupe Bay Area Theatersports) are based, and at http://128.121.161.229/funds/bbphotos.htm.

Liberty Heights Adrien Brody is one actor who isn't afraid of difficult shoots, segueing from sweaty jungles (The Thin Red Line) to Bosnian rubble (Harrison's Flowers, which opened here last Friday). In the course of filming The Pianist, the true story of Warsaw Ghetto survivor and composer Wladyslaw Szpilman, Brody lost 30 pounds. "I think it's important to know that suffering and not act it," the lanky, thoughtful actor confided during a visit to San Francisco last month. "I've had plenty of suffering in my life, but I've never actually gone hungry. And to know what that feels like, where your every thought is about eating -- anything -- and you can't, is powerful." The Pianist not only marks Brody's first leading role in a major film, but it's also the first time that director Roman Polanski -- a survivor whose mother perished at Auschwitz -- deals with the Holocaust on screen. "I felt more pressure than you can ever imagine," Brody said quietly. The Pianist premieres in Europe later this year, when it will presumably secure U.S. distribution.

 
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