Where was The Conversation filmed?
San Francisco (USA)
American, Apartment, Buildings/Offices
Americana, Art Deco, Industrial, Building Dated/Retro
About The Conversation
Francis Ford Coppola's psychological thriller, The Conversation, is an ode to Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 art-movie masterpiece, Blow-U. Between the production of his renowned The Godfather film series in 1972 and 1974, Coppola returned to independent cinema with this suspenseful picture - co-written by himself and cinematographer Haskell Wexler.
Globally acknowledged for his skills in sound surveillance, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is employed to observe two people - Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest. Alongside his colleagues, he eavesdrops on the couple’s movements around the vibrant Union Square of San Francisco.
Although he knows how technology can infringe on personal space, he maintains a strict distinction between his occupation and private life, refusing even to converse with his companion Amy (Teri Garr) about what he does or where exactly he lives. Harry is troubled by his work as he begins to suspect that the conversation he pieced together has uncovered a malicious plot orchestrated by the "Director" who hired him for the killing mission.
His doubts are further reinforced after being seduced by a call girl and having his tapes stolen. It only causes Harry to become increasingly torn between carrying out his job and yielding to his conscience.
Under the expert guidance of Coppola, combined with Bill Butler's breathtaking cinematography and Walter Murch's Oscar-nominated sound editing skills, Harry is immersed in a majestic auditory and visual experience. The Godfather Part II and The Conversation earned Coppola a rare double nomination for Best Picture at the Oscars, along with additional nods for Best Screenplay (The Godfather Part II bagged both).
The Conversation Locations
The Conversation showcased the rich diversity of San Francisco as its backdrop, allowing viewers to get an immersive glimpse of the city during the ‘70s. Most scenes were shot in various locations around San Francisco, with surrounding landmarks and areas of interest providing an evocative backdrop for the story.
Coppola’s American Zoetrope company, based in Sentinel Building (916 Kearny Street) in the North Beach neighborhood, produced the film. Known for its food, nightlife, and cultural attractions, the area inspired some of The Conversation's most memorable scenes. In particular, two notable moments occur at Washington Square Park and a nearby Italian restaurant.
Besides North Beach, Coppola also utilized other parts of San Francisco, including Chinatown, Union Square, and the Haight-Ashbury district. The result is a cinematic marvel with diverse scenery, from busy street markets full of colorful characters to peaceful parks surrounded by old buildings and trees.
All these elements combine to create an impressive visual landscape that brings out the moody atmosphere integral to the film's narrative. Every frame offers something interesting, from architectural marvels such as Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill or Victorian houses along Lombard Street; to fog-covered Golden Gate Bridge or rugged Marin Headlands.
Snooping at Union Square scene in The Conversation
Union Square, 333 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
An unhurried opening zoom on Union Square shows us Harry’s microphones capturing snippets of conversation between two people, simultaneously muddled yet clear. It is an intense surveillance mission aimed at monitoring the conversations of Ann (Cindy Williams) and her lover Mark (Frederic Forrest).
The bustling Union Square plaza in San Francisco provided the setting for the scene. A hotel room on the top floor of the St. Francis Hotel, which overlooks the square, offered the perfect filming vantage. The camera slowly zooms in from on high to capture the hustle and bustle of people below, creating an eerie voyeuristic atmosphere that sets the tone for this particular scene.
Although viewers cannot access this hotel room today, it is possible to observe Union Square from a similar vantage point by visiting the nearby Sir Francis Drake Hotel Roof Garden. This rooftop garden features several outdoor tables, comfy lounge chairs, and spectacular 360-degree views of San Francisco and its famous landmarks.
To get to this location, drive down Geary Street until you reach Powell Street. From there, turn right onto Stockton Street before turning left again onto Powell Street. After approximately two blocks, you will be at Union Square and able to find your way to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel Roof Garden.
Harry's apartment scene in The Conversation
700 Laguna St, San Francisco, CA 94102, USA
Harry's residence apartment serves as a refuge where he can escape from society and his paranoia. It is decorated with vintage furniture and mid-century style decor with olive green walls and accents of dark brown and gold. The room is filled with an abundance of technological gadgets that hint at Harry’s profession as a surveillance expert.
Two bay windows allow light to stream into the living area, creating an atmosphere that reflects the inner turmoil felt by the protagonist. The apartment building is located in San Francisco's Hayes Valley section of the Western Addition at 700 Laguna Street. It is within walking distance of landmarks such as City Hall and Civic Center Plaza.
To get to The Conversation filming location, take public transportation or drive via Interstate 80 or US-101 highways which connect to Hayes Street toward Grove Street, where they will see the Sylvia Apartments on their left side just before reaching Laguna Street. The famous Haight-Ashbury district is also nearby if you want to explore more attractions during your visit.
Harry makes a call at a public phone booth scene in The Conversation
Corner of Sutter Street at Polk, Polk Gulch, San Francisco, CA, USA
The scene in the movie captures the desperate nature of Harry’s job, while also highlighting his pragmatism and solitary lifestyle. The plastic raincoat, a recurrent motif in the film, serves to emphasize his isolation from the rest of the world; he is alone in this shot as he alights from the bus at the corner of Sutter and Polk.
His anxious inquiry for payment hints at the futility of his work, as does the all-too-familiar public phone booth. With meticulous attention to detail, he arranges a meeting with the Director. His anxiousness is palpable as he inquires, "Is that ... payment in full?"
San Francisco’s Sutter and Polk Streets served as the filming locations for The Conversation scenes. The various landmarks that can be seen in the background, such as Hotel Carlton (1075 Sutter Street), Travelers Tavern (1176 Sutter Street), and Fosters Cafeteria (corner of Sutter & Polk), make it easy to identify on a map.
If driving, head south on Van Ness Avenue until you reach Geary Blvd., then turn left onto Polk St. If you're taking public transportation, Muni buses #3-Jackson and #38-Geary can get you to the location from downtown San Francisco. If you walk from Market Street, head south on Van Ness Avenue until reaching Geary Blvd., then turn left onto Polk St.; it should take approximately 25 minutes depending on your pace.
Alternatively, if you want to add some flavor to your journey - just like Harry Caul did - you can hop onto a vintage cable car at Market Street and continue all the way until you reach California Street; then walk down east until hitting Sutter St., and finally make a right turn onto Polk St.
Amy's apartment scene in The Conversation
110-116 Frederick St, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA
Harry has a semi-steady girlfriend, Amy (Terri Garr), and on occasion, he drops by her place without warning. As it's late in the night, knowing she likely is already tucked up in bed at this point, he lets himself in. A revealing wrap with a plastic raincoat looks like an odd pairing but when Harry enters his beloved's apartment situated at the bottom of a flight of stairs, Amy affectionately welcomes him with open arms.
They seem to get along splendidly as they cozily snuggle together while enjoying their bottle of wine, and if you observe closely enough behind them there’s even a brief glimpse of her kitchen! Amy is eager to learn more about Harry Caul's life, although it appears he prefers to keep everything close-knit and private; her inquiries only make him more uncomfortable.
Amy resides at the Casa Madrona Apartments on Frederick Street in Haight near Buena Vista Park. This apartment holds a special place in cinematic history, as Marilyn Monroe reportedly stayed there while taking a break from her Hollywood career! While it has an actual separate bedroom, for the movie they moved the bed into the living room to give it that cozy studio look and feel.
To get to this location from downtown San Francisco, take public transportation such as BART or Muni buses. For those driving, the journey from downtown should take about 10 minutes. Start on Van Ness Avenue and make a left onto Gough Street; then turn right onto Fell Street before proceeding straight to Masonic Ave and making another left onto Gough St until you reach Casa Madrona Apartments which will be located on your right side.
Take the money or run scene in The Conversation
One Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, CA 94111, USA
Despite his success in extracting and cleaning the covert recording of two youngsters at Union Square, Harry begins to worry that something bad may happen to them after listening through it numerous times. Anxious yet determined, he sets off for the Director's office with the tapes.
As he crosses a footbridge, an imposing structure adorned with a breathtaking sculpture looms before him - this is his destination. After confirming his attendance with the security desk, he is told to wait while they alert the Director's assistant. Martin Stett (Harrison Ford), the assistant, accompanies him down a corridor on the south side of the building.
The mosaic-tiled floor pattern makes for another captivating architectural feature spanning all public areas within Embarcadero Center, including on top of the footbridge. The art deco Shell Building at 100 Bush Street, and further to its left is the PacBell Building, is an exemplary example of art deco architecture situated on New Montgomery Street 140.
Peering westward, the windows of 555 California (formerly known as the Bank of America building) could be seen from afar. To Harry’s surprise and worry, Stett informed him that the Director was out for a trip whilst taking hold of the tapes and providing him with a $15,000 fee.
Knowing how sensitive yet perilous these recordings were meant to remain confidential between the two only, Harry gives back the payment in return for reclaiming what is rightfully his before departing. As he leaves, Stett warns him not to get entangled further... “Someone may get hurt.”
Getting to One Embarcadero Center is easy enough since it is located right off highway 101 and in the Financial District. It is within walking distance from Union Square where Harry first recorded his conversation on tape. Public transportation options like BART or Muni trains can also take you near your destination.
Harry's dream scene in The Conversation
Alta Plaza Park, Jackson St. &, Steiner St, San Francisco, CA 94115, USA
Harry’s anxieties about the safety of his investigation subject, the Director's adulterous wife, persist in his dreams. In a dream, he sees himself stalking her to a park to give her a warning: "... He'll kill you if he gets the chance ..." then, " ... I'm not afraid of death ..." and after some contemplation, "... I am afraid of murder.”
Filming took place at Alta Plaza Park located in Pacific Heights, with Harry's Steiner Street house visible behind him on the left. Initially, smoke machines were meant to be used but due to complaints from local residents, they had no choice but to cut their shoot short earlier than anticipated.
To get to Alta Plaza Park, take public transportation or drive to the location. If taking public transportation, there are multiple bus stops along Jackson Street that will take you directly to the park, including routes 24 and 71M buses. To reach Alta Plaza Park from downtown San Francisco, follow Franklin Street and Pine Street until you merge onto Steiner Street.
The Conversation is widely acclaimed for its impeccable writing that combines elements of suspense, intrigue, and complex human emotions. It has been praised for the powerful performances delivered by Gene Hackman as well as the rest of the cast, including Harrison Ford, Teri Garr, Cindy Williams, and John Cazale. The movie also explores several ethical dilemmas through its unique plot line.
Perhaps Coppola didn't realize that he was about to film a tremendous movie at the time. He might have thought of it as a standard melodrama, which explains the inclusion of some gorgeous but otherwise unnecessary dream sequences and hallucinations. Every aspect of The Conversation urges you to ask for more.
It goes without saying that The Conversation is a highly recommended watch if you are up for a gripping suspense story with great performances from the cast which make it all worth your time!