When director Joe Talbot and writer-actor Jimmie Fails began production on their debut film, The Last Black Man in San Francisco — loosely inspired by Fails’ own life story — Talbot knew they needed to find the kind of house that represented old-school San Francisco. So, along with production designer Jona Tochet, Talbot literally knocked on doors around the city until they found the right one: the home of Jim Tyler, a man who had moved there in the ’60s with his partner, years before Harvey Milk. “He bought it and spent his life restoring it,” says Talbot.
Adds Tochet: “I needed it to have a pulse and a voice.” But Fails had to connect with the property to make it work, which, thankfully, he did. “It just clicked,” Fails recalls. “When you walk into that house, your mood changes. That’s how it should have felt, because the house in the film is a character.”
Tochet says that Tyler’s Victorian paradise, built in 1889, had all the swoon-worthy elements that she, Talbot, and Fails wanted—from the conical witch’s-hat detail (“We actually hand-made every shingle,” she says) on the roof to the stunning stained glass window (“We took advantage of the way this warm, pure light would spill through”). Inside the foyer is a gorgeous built-in organ, which influenced other aspects of the film. “The organ is going to factor into the soundtrack as well as being part of Jimmie’s home theme,” Talbot says.
As for the decor, Tochet was very specific in her vision for the furniture and color palette. “We knew that the royalty that was conveyed through these Victorians would match the personality of Jimmie becoming the king of his own castle. We wanted to stick with those royal color themes that we knew would create a warm feeling in the home.”