S.F. slowly disappearing from silver screen

April 28th, 2008 by Barry Caplan | Tags: , , , , , ,

From today’s San Francisco Chronicle :
But these days, the big movie cameras – responsible for much of the city’s image over the years – are virtually shuttered here.

In the past nine months, only one major Hollywood movie, “Milk,” has been filmed in San Francisco, unless you include “Four Christmases,” a Vince Vaughn/Reese Witherspoon vehicle that was in the city only 1 1/2 weeks in December. For that production, crews swooped into town to shoot exteriors – then packed up and headed elsewhere to complete the bulk of the film.

A report from the San Francisco Film Commission shows that from 2000 to 2006, the city lost 50 percent or 1,000 of its industry jobs. These are well-paying union positions with benefits that might help keep middle-class families in the city. Over that time, San Francisco also lost an estimated $125 million in revenue and $8 million in state and local taxes.

As it turns out, I was up in The City thinking about just this topic 2 days ago on Saturday. since I have been living outside the Bay Area for he last 9 months or so, I have not been able to visit SF as often as I would like during Bay Area visits.

I was fresh off working on a production filmed on location in my town that wrapped jsut last week. As I arrived at SF Bart’s Powell Station for a meeting with a scriptwriter I know, I was struck by the level of creative energy in the crowd, and how SF citizens and myself in the past take it for granted. It was nothing short of exhilarating, a treasure, a kaleidoscope of people who work and create value with their minds as labor, rather then their hands.

More about that in future posts, but for now I want to point out that the article whose lead I have posted above has its analysis all wrong.

First of all, Hollywood produces fewer feature films each year, and increasingly looks towards blockbusters. So any number of cities are competing for a shrinking piece of a shrinking pie in terms of accessing the benefits of a film production -jobs, tourism, service sector revenue, etc.

More importantly, can the locations quantify the actual benefits they receive? It sounds kind of amorphous to me – you can make some specific guesses of hotel revenue for example based on the size and length of the production, but how much of the investment is made with the intent of people coming back for productions without the incentive?

I never see any discussion of that – the thing about incentive programs is that they are a race to the bottom of the barrel as currently structured.

Readers can see elsewhere on this blog about my thoughts regarding overall finance structures for films and other high tech investments, but regardless of that, why are film commissions GIVING money away without a plan on how to make the effort self-sustaining if not profitable?

Whatever the structure of the film’s finances are, why does not the local investment participate in the outcome of the film itself? Money thus earned can then be re-invested in future productions or marketing of the city or jobs training such as it may be.

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