San Mateo film commission welcomes Hollywood

The San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Film Commission is on a mission.

The organization, which celebrated its 15th anniversary in September, wants to convince Hollywood filmmakers that San Mateo County offers enough advantages that they should make movies on the Peninsula, and forgo the common cost-cutting practice of filming outside California.

While it might be hard to estimate how much revenue the Bay Area loses to “runaway productions” locating shoots elsewhere, the results can occasionally be jarring. Legendary Pictures’ 2014 “Godzilla” remake featured many San Francisco scenes, but because those segments were shot in Vancouver, B.C., The City looked a bit unfamiliar to local audiences, with everything from BART logos to San Francisco General Hospital bearing little resemblance to their real-world counterparts.

In recent years, however, San Mateo County has had some good luck enticing filmmakers to come to town. If Cyberdine Systems’ corporate offices looked familiar in this year’s “Terminator Genisys,” that’s because Oracle Corporation’s Redwood Shores campus, with its iconic, cylindrical office buildings, stood in as the birthplace of the Terminator franchise’s supercomputer villain, Skynet.

Film Commissioner Brena Bailey has many such wins she can point to. Another is “Chasing Mavericks,” a 2012 biopic about surfers Frosty Hesson and Jay Moriarty, whose adventures surfing Half Moon Bay’s dangerous Mavericks wave system preceded the now-famous Mavericks surf competitions by several years.

The film’s Half Moon Bay scenes were actually shot in the area, Bailey noted, and gave the local economy a temporary boost, with plenty of hotel room nights being booked by the production, whose cast and crew spent a lot of money locally.

Bailey’s organization was among film commissions around the state that supported California Assembly Bill 1839, a 2014 law that renewed an existing 20 percent tax credit for productions filming in California, and added to it an additional 5 percent credit for filmmakers who shoot outside the 30-mile zone surrounding Los Angeles.

But how compelling is a 25 percent tax credit if San Mateo County’s notoriously high cost of living could threaten to drive up a film or television production’s expenses?

Because the Film Commission is part of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Bailey says she can secure discounted lodging for film crews. And the free services the commission offers, which include location scouting and help obtaining permits, can make for an enticing package.

It also helps that many Peninsula cities can easily stand in for “Anytown, USA,” Bailey noted.

Explaining how the Film Commission convinces filmmakers to come to San Mateo County, Bailey said, “Our main strategy is to respond first with possible sites for their particular filming needs.

Once they see what we have to offer, they are excited about filming here.”

And costs aren’t necessarily prohibitive, Bailey noted, because some businesses offer discounts to attract film productions.

“Venues in our area are film-friendly, and know the economic impact that filming brings,” Bailey said, “As a result, our location rates are highly competitive with other areas.”

Confidentiality agreements prevent Bailey from saying much about upcoming movies or TV shows that might be filming on the Peninsula, but one to watch for is “Swiss Army Man,” which recently did some
principal photography in Half Moon Bay.

Currently in post-production, the independent film features “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe as an eccentric homeless man on a quixotic quest.

Some Half Moon Bay residents got a surprise while the production was in town, Bailey said, when Radcliffe showed up at a local karaoke bar and belted out a rendition of Eminem’s, “The Real Slim Shady.”

A cellphone video of Radcliffe’s performance has since garnered almost 1.5 million views on YouTube.