After working for years to persuade filmmakers to come to San Francisco despite huge financial incentives in other locations, The City has found itself without the space productions need to build sets.
The results have been damaging. San Francisco lost a Universal Pictures feature film that would have shot for 29 days in July and sunk $4 million into the local economy. And the immediate prospect of landing two TV series now hangs in the balance.
Ordinarily, The City would offer productions space at a Treasure Island hangar or on Port of San Francisco property. But those spaces are both occupied — the former through a prior commitment and the latter from activities on Port property associated with America's Cup yachting races, said Susannah Robbins, head of the San Francisco Film Commission.
That has left her scrambling to find space for productions to use, meeting with Mayor Ed Lee's Chief of Staff Steve Kawa for help and talking to other city departments for possible space. According to a city document, she also is looking at commercial properties, including a warehouse at Evans Avenue and Toland Street that was used for printing by The San Francisco Examiner and another large warehouse along Bayshore Boulevard.
To help in this effort, Robbins has proposed amending The City's film rebate program, which allows qualifying productions to have certain taxes and city fees reimbursed, up to $600,000, to include rental payments for leased privately owned commercial space.
For local actors like Clara Brighton, anything The City can do to boost the industry means having the opportunity to pursue one's art while remaining in the Bay Area.
“A lot of my friends have been forced to move elsewhere where there are better tax incentives for film to be there so that they can be able to make a living,” Brighton said. “I'm sad to see great talent leave the Bay Area.”
On Thursday, a Board of Supervisors committee approved the legislation to alter the rebate program, sending it to the full board for an expected approval July 9. The proposal drew the support of the Teamsters 2785 labor union and other industry representatives.
Robbins said the proposal is important to ensure the first seven episodes of the new HBO television series “Untitled Michael Lannan Project,” about three gay friends living in San Francisco, is actually shot in The City.
Another television series could also be on the horizon for San Francisco. A pilot was being shot last week by Turner North Center Productions titled “Murder in the First,” which is a crime drama. It was filming in North Beach, Chinatown, Bernal Heights and Mission Bay.
“Without a stage space to build cover sets, we are going to lose productions which would otherwise base here rather than just shooting a few days with beauty shots to make it look like the whole production was shot here, which is done so often,” Robbins said. “They shoot in Vancouver. They shoot in Louisiana. They come and do a few pickup shots here.”
The Film Commission also plans to partner with newly created nonprofit Friends of the Film Commission to raise money for a permanent location, Robbins said.
City officials have focused efforts on attracting films to San Francisco after the industry nosedived. Between 2001 and 2006, 1,099 film industry jobs were lost, along with more than $123 million in spending and more than $8.4 million in tax revenue, according to a Film Commission report. In recent years, filming activity in The City has risen, drawing high-profile projects; last year, director Woody Allen filmed parts of his latest project, “Blue Jasmine,” in San Francisco.
Robbins said the rebate program is paying off. While it's difficult to say how much of an impact the rebate program has had on stimulating the industry, data show that during the rebate's first six years the film industry spent more than $40 million in the local economy, including $12.5 million on local salaries for 1,135 crew positions and 4,922 background extra positions. The rebates totaled $1.5 million during this period.
“That's a fantastic rate of return for The City,” Robbins said.