A funeral scene in which 35,000 extras trail a fallen leader's coffin would most likely never be re-created for a Hollywood movie. Besides the expense, how could any filmmaker expect to capture the magnitude of emotions with those expressed at the actual event?

So a group of filmmakers decided if there ever was going to be a movie about this man with such a following - even though he had refused to sell the rights to his story many times - they figured they should capture the event on film anyway, just in case.As things happened, not too long after his death, things changed. To put it in the industry's one-line pitch lingo, the story of the "Mexican American Gandhi" or "Mexican American Martin Luther King" was going to get made into a movie after all. A man whose passing generates this kind of crowd surely was worthy of a filmed biography. And Cesar Chavez's widow and children finally agreed.

Chavez founded the United Farm Workers and the people behind the Warner Bros. feature proj-ect are none other than actor-director Luis Valdez ("Zoot Suit"), who launched the UFW's Teatro Campesino and will write the screenplay, and producers Moctesuma Esparza and Robert Katz ("Gettysburg").

"We had been talking to Cesar for 10 years up to his death," Valdez said. "Cesar was very humble and didn't want a biography to stand in the way of telling the UFW story. People think of him as a public figure, not knowing how intensely private, extremely spiritual a man he really was."

Chavez may have been self-effacing, but he could not help becoming famous once his boycott of California grapes, begun in the mid-1960s, brought him national recognition and such champions as former Gov. Jerry Brown, several big-city mayors and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Chavez's mission was to galvanize public support on behalf of farmworkers, many of them illegal immigrants, who averaged as little as $1,350 a year in a farm industry that at the time grossed $4 billion annually.

"Huelga!" - or strike - became the UFW's clarion call, the black-on-red Aztec eagle banner its symbol. His successful unionization of farm labor into the AFL-CIO, the first viable agricultural union in the United States, was brought about by fasting, marches and other nonviolent tactics.

Valdez's script will, in part, be based upon Fred Ross' 1992 biography, "Conquering Goliath: Cesar Chavez at the Beginning," which documents the fieldhand's Dust Bowl migration from the busted family farm in Yuma, Ariz., to subsistent existence in the California farm labor camps of tar-paper shacks and a diet of mustard greens. It continues with the bitter, sometimes brutal incidents involving picketing farmworkers and the significant concessions from growers that resulted, and, ultimately, the decline in the 1980s of the UFW's membership and strength and support.

The less well-known side of Chavez - father of eight, vegetarian, Catholic and occasional practitioner of yoga - will flesh out the movie character role, which Valdez is undecided about playing. Filming could be under way next year.

Katz said Warner Bros., as producers of two recent, if controversial, biopics - "JFK" and "Malcolm X" - was the most sup-por-tive of the studios for the proj-ect.

And there is enthusiasm, also, at UFW headquarters in Keene, Calif., where three of Chavez's children work.

Said Paul Chavez, 36, president of the National Farmworkers Service Center: "There was a concern about the commercialization of his life, but in light of his passing, we (on the UFW board) felt it was time. We want his legacy, his story to live on for a long time." - JANE GALBRAITH

- "S.F.W." is getting a bad rap.

A&M Films' social satire of teen-agers held hostage in a convenience store has become a prisoner of its own title and content when it comes to product placement.

The film, set for a late summer '94 release through Gramercy Pictures, has been rebuffed by such major advertisers as Budweiser, Johnny Walker bourbon, Lucky Strike cigarettes, Campbell's soup, People and Mirabella magazines, Circle K and Southland Corp.'s 7-Eleven stores, to name a few.

Only Black Death Cigarettes and Black Death Vodka didn't seem to have a problem brandishing its skull-blazoned labels in the film.

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"We were too controversial for alcohol and cigarettes! Can you believe that?" said producer Dale Pollock, who heads A&M. So Pollock and crew invented their own products to place. Instead of Budweiser, the plain wrap domestic brew became Bulls Eye Beer. The Lucky Strike label was rubbed out for a red label target brand called Strike Out.

And lines were changed to reflect the same: "This Bull's for you."

All of the potential sponsors that the production crew approached said they declined to have their products portrayed because of the film's title - an acronym for So (Expletive) What - as well as their objections to the underage drinking and violence in the film. Companies generally clamor to have their products showcased in films as a means of subliminal advertising.

"The film didn't really have any positive elements about it. The target audience for this film, which will really be teenagers, can't even buy our product," said Dean Ayers, director of entertainment marketing for Anheuser-Busch Inc.

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