SF’s cable car operator makes a cameo in a movie shot downtown

It was a confusing sight for a September afternoon stifled by a historic heat wave in downtown San Francisco.

A cable car painted red and green adorned with garlands, poinsettias and Christmas lights rumbled over the Powell-Hyde Line on Washington Street. Once the unmistakable tinkling of the bell sounded and caught the attention of nearby tourists, the Val Lupiz cable car operator was eager to see their reactions.

“It was a mix of surprise and delight,” Lupiz told SFGATE by phone from the Nob Hill cable car barn. “People were tilting their heads to the side or doing a double take.”

Even more confusing were the passengers on board, dressed in thick sweaters, overcoats and scarves for the 90-degree weather that day. Then passers-by saw the cameras and realized what was happening.

Earlier this month, a film crew descended on the city to shoot some scenes for an upcoming Hallmark holiday movie slated for release in December, a Hallmark spokesperson told SFGATE.

Although the film was largely shot in Vancouver – a frequent replacement for San Francisco – other scenes filmed in the city near the bay were in Chinatown, the financial district and near Piers 7 and 15, according to Manijeh Fata, the executive director. of the San Francisco Film Commission. And in one of them, Lupiz should have a main role.

The gripman, who has worked for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency for 23 years, said his job is physically demanding and also involves a wide range of unusual tasks – from navigating Victorian-era cable car technology to decorating them of elaborate holiday decorations, something he’s been doing every year for over a decade. But he never would have guessed what his supervisor, Fred Butler, was going to say when he approached him about that particular gig just over a month ago.

“He was grinning from ear to ear, trying not to laugh,” Lupiz recalled.

Butler told him that a Hallmark movie was about to start filming downtown, and they needed a cable car operator who could ride two of the main characters during a pivotal scene in the movie. Lupiz was in for it, but he didn’t understand what was so funny.

It was the film’s working title: “My Big Fat Chinese Christmas,” apparently a riff from the 2002 comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

“I said, ‘Are you serious? Are you kidding, right?’ Lupiz said. “I guess I wasn’t the only one – apparently when [Butler] was talking to the producer, they had the same reaction: ‘I swear that’s the title.’… But I thought it was very funny. It sticks in your head, that’s for sure.

Hallmark apparently dropped the idea; a spokesperson told SFGATE earlier this week that the track was “officially locked” as “A Big Fat Family Christmas” and would feature Shannon Chan-Kent (“Woke”), Shannon Kook (“The Conjuring”) , Tia Carrere (“Wayne’s World”) and Jack Wagner (“The Bold and the Beautiful”).

Lupiz has been told several times that he is “a bit of a hopeless romantic”. He met his wife on one of the cable cars and admitted he had watched his fair share of Hallmark movies over the years.

“My wife is addicted to it. My daughter is addicted to it. I’ll be honest, I’m trained to watch a lot of them,” he said. “Next thing you know, I’m in 10-15 minutes and I pay attention to the plot. They can be well-written and they’re very romantic! I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff.

So he decided to accept the concert, even offering to decorate the cable cars for the film himself. Before filming began, the crew gave him a general outline of the plot and the characters.

“From what I understand, the lead role in the film is a Chinese-American TV reporter, and she’s trying to reconcile her traditional Chinese upbringing with the Western notion of Christmas,” Lupiz said. “So she and the male lead get on my cable car, and she has a bag full of little red envelopes – a Lunar New Year custom. The bag is sitting on the floor of the car, and these two are behaving like typical tourists, leaning and shouting.

Next comes Lupiz’s brilliant moment. In character, he yells at them to knock him off, and though they pull themselves together for a few seconds, it’s not long before they start acting up again, knocking the bag of letters out of the car, unbeknownst to them.

“So I have to say, ‘That’s it! You hooligans go to the next stop,” Lupiz said, cracking up. “It’s not every day you’re the villain in a Hallmark Christmas movie.”

Hallmark told SFGATE that the official synopsis for “A Big Fat Family Christmas” isn’t out yet, but a logline for the film was teased Thursday as Hallmark Channel’s “Countdown to Christmas” lineup was unveiled: “Liv is a photojournalist willing to do this on her own. To get a dream assignment – to shoot the Chang family’s annual party for a cover story – she doesn’t reveal that they are in fact her family. When she finds herself closer to Henry, the colleague covering the story with her, she wants to confide in him but doesn’t want to jeopardize her big break.

Cable car operator Val Lupiz is set to appear in a Hallmark movie that was shooting in downtown San Francisco this month.

Jeremy Menzies Photographer | San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

In total, the shoot took about five to six hours as they shot the same scene over and over, Lupiz said. He said he missed his signal several times because he had to concentrate on his real job: operating the cable car. At one point a driver cut him off at the intersection, and in another take, when the bag of letters fell from the car as he turned the corner, a concerned passerby rushed to collect it and return it to the passengers – only to find out they were actors.

Lupiz also didn’t expect the number of people who would try to get on the cable car while they were filming the scene. “They were so confused!” he said. “But then they would wave at us and take pictures. It was fun.”

A cable car decorated for the film.

A cable car decorated for the film.

Val Lupiz

Lupiz grew up in the city and remembers the first time he saw one of the cable cars pass in front of him as he was walking down Powell Street.

“I was immediately fascinated by them,” he said. “I befriended the guys who ran them, and years later I decided that was what I wanted to do with my life. … They’re important to the fabric of San Francisco as well. They are the symbol of the city.

When asked if he would take the opportunity to appear as a cable car attendant in another film, Lupiz showed no hesitation.

“Are you kidding?” he said. “In a heartbeat.”

The film is set to premiere on Hallmark Channel on Friday, December 2.

Cable car operator Val Lupiz is set to appear in a Hallmark movie that was shooting in downtown San Francisco this month.

Cable car operator Val Lupiz is set to appear in a Hallmark movie that was shooting in downtown San Francisco this month.

Jeremy Menzies Photographer | San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

About Dwaine Pinson

Check Also

Are tech layoffs bad for San Francisco businesses? – NBC Bay Area

Several small business owners in San Francisco are worried after more companies announced layoffs. The …