SF film industry flickering out

San Francisco’s declining film industry has resulted in hefty losses over the last six years — more than $123 million in local spending, more than $8 million in local and state tax dollars and nearly 2,000 jobs, according to a report released by the San Francisco Film Commission.

City officials have blamed San Francisco’s decline of the film industry — which peaked in 1999 — mainly on the enormous financial incentives other states and foreign cities have created to lure film productions. Industry insiders continuously point to the increasing costs associated with filming in San Francisco.

“The cost of doing business is clearly the biggest shortcoming …and The City’s greatest weakness,” said the report, authored by consulting firm ICF International.

San Francisco’s film industry reached an all-time low in 2003 and the first half of 2004, when no major motion picture was filmed in The City. The last time The City saw any big film productions was in 2005, with three major pictures — “Pursuit of Happyness,” “Rent” and “Zodiac.”

Using the 2000 level of the film industry as a baseline, the report said that since 2001 the loss of 1,099 film industry jobs by 2006 has led to the loss of more than $123 million in spending and more than $8.4 million in tax revenue. However, the loss is likely even greater because film is a powerful marketing tool, according to the report.

With the loss of jobs, San Francisco has less film employment than any city of its size, the report said. In 2004, Mayor Gavin Newsom attempted to revitalize the film industry by overhauling The City’s film office, sinking more money into the Film Commission and appointing Stefanie Coyote as its executive director.

“I think that we relied on our looks for too long,” said Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who successfully passed legislation last year creating The City’s first-ever film rebate incentive program.

With the increasing cost of filming in San Francisco, a difficult permitting process — which Alioto-Pier called expensive and “just a bureaucratic nightmare” — and huge incentives in other locations, San Francisco’s program is not drawing film business. The incentive program — which offers a reimbursement of city fees and a portion of local taxes — is minuscule compared with a place such as New Mexico, which offers a 25 percent tax rebate on all production expenditures, and other perks, such as a no-interest loan of up to $15 million.

The report makes a number of recommendations on how to reinvigorate The City’s film industry. They include increasing incentives, creating a regional body of neighboring cities to fund efforts to attract film productions and bringing in the private sector to work with the Film Commission to promote filming in The City.

Alioto-Pier plans to introduce legislation in the next few weeks that would streamline the permitting process for film productions and also legislation that would improve The City’s film rebate program.

The Film Commission is hosting a Wednesday evening presentation on the report’s findings at the San Francisco Public Library.

By the numbers

Impact of San Francisco’s declining film industry during the six-year period of 2001-2006

1,936: Jobs lost

$123 million: Local spending lost

$8.4 million: Tax dollars lost

2005: Last year a film was made in The City

– Source: San Francisco Film Commission: San Francisco Film Cluster Economic Analysis report, ICF International

jsabatini@examiner.com

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