Filming of Patch Adams began in February 1998 at soundstages on Treasure Island in San Francisco. The 20,000 square-foot hospital set, designed by production designer Linda DeScenna, served as the backdrop for Patchs medical school training, doubling for the Medical College of Virginia. The production then moved to Asheville, North Carolina in late April to shoot on the grounds of the historic Biltmore Estate, an 8,000 acre setting for the Gesundheit Institute. The productions final location was the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, which was used as a double for MCV for exterior locations. Shooting wrapped on June 26, 1998.
Patch Adams journey, from med school to Gesundheit to the big screen, has been a long, strange trip. His difficulty in raising funds for the institute finally prompted him to go public with his story and author a book, opening a floodgate of magazine articles, news stories and movie offers. Left feeling cold by one Hollywood producers hard-sell seduction, which included limousines, fancy hotels and promise of big bucks, he turned to producer Mike Farrell, well-known for his portrayal of B.J. Hunnicutt in the series M*A*S*H and a partner with Marvin Minoff in Farrell/Minoff Productions.
"Please don't make it a goofy doctor," pleaded Patch, although "I am a goofy guy." He was adamant that Farrell understand his comedy antics are by design and that he is very serious about his cause and his desire to be a provider of hope and encouragement.
Farrell, who had met Patch years before during a trip to Russia, was enthused about the book and brought in producer Barry Kemp, who had a production deal at Universal. After developing a script, they approached director Tom Shadyac, who was fresh off several hit comedies and looking for a new slant in material.
"I thought it was a fascinating story that talked about a theme that is very close to me, which is how humor can be used as a tool in healing," says Shadyac. "I was interested in doing a comedy that had a reality-based tone and a dramatic story. I really wanted make the film -- if we could get Robin Williams."
They got him. Robin Williams and the president of his Blue Wolf production company, Marsha Williams ("Mrs. Doubtfire"), loved the story. Marsha was brought in to produce with Charles Newirth ("Forrest Gump").