Are the days of ‘Dirty Harry’ in S.F. over?

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s three-year-old promise for more lights, camera, action in San Francisco is apparently falling flat as The City struggles to compete against states offering film producers hefty subsidies.

San Francisco’s film industry boomed in the 1990s, but began to decline in 1999 and reached an all-time low in 2003 and the first half of 2004, when no major motion picture was filmed in The City.

In 2004, Newsom, promising to revitalize San Francisco’s film industry, overhauled The City’s film office, sunk more money into the Film Commission and appointed Stefanie Coyote as its executive director. A film incentive program was also adopted by the Board of Supervisors in April 2006 and backed by Newsom, making San Francisco one of two cities in the nation to have one.

In 2005, three major pictures — “Pursuit of Happyness,” “Rent” and “Zodiac” — shot in The City had production costs reaching $151 million and sunk about $60 million into the local economy. But since then, no major film has been shot in The City. While four current television pilots are set in San Francisco, they filmed only a total of seven days in The City because it is too expensive to shoot here, according to Coyote. They filmed exterior shots and then went to Los Angeles, she said.

The City’s incentive program is “not enough” to lure filmmakers to San Francisco, Coyote said. The program is failing to compete with more aggressive incentive programs elsewhere, generally funded by state governments. New Mexico, for example, offers a 25 percent tax rebate on all production expenditures.

Coyote said she is discussing improvements to the program with Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who introduced the legislation to create the program, and last month met in Alioto-Pier’s office with city departments to discuss streamlining the permitting process for filmmakers.

Bay Area producer David Hakim said “despite the hard work” of city officials since 2004, “very little of substance has been accomplished.”

A man claiming to be director Robert Redford called in to a KQED talk show during an Aug. 15 Newsom interview to say he wanted to film in The City, but wound up filming in L.A. because it saved him millions.

Newsom responded, saying it’s difficult for San Francisco to “fight against these remarkable rebates” in other locations.

Newsom’s spokesman Nathan Ballard said there’s been some success, pointing to an uptick in permits issued for filming such productions as commercials and television shows in 2006 compared with 2005. Ballard also said the incentive program is relatively new and about to be advertised in trade publications. “We do expect this program to take off,” he said.

The City on TV

“Eli Stone” (ABC)

Mid-season premiere

Ambitious San Francisco attorney Eli Stone begins suspecting he may be a prophet after having hallucinations of dead relatives and pop stars.

“Women’s Murder Club” (ABC)

Oct. 12 premiere

Based on a series of books by James Patterson, the show revolves around the lives of four San Francisco women who pool their professional resources to solve homicides.

Journeyman (NBC)

Sept. 24 premiere

Newspaper reporter and family man Dan Vasser discovers that he is able to travel into the past and reconnects with his late ex-fiancée.

– Source: Various network Web sites

jsabatini@examiner.com


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