San Francisco film commissioner resigns amid questions about role 

click to enlarge Longtime producer and Commissioner Debbie Brubaker has come under scrutiny for her dealings with The City’s Film Office. - DONIPHAN BLAIR
  • Doniphan Blair
  • Longtime producer and Commissioner Debbie Brubaker has come under scrutiny for her dealings with The City’s Film Office.

The Film Commission works to attract moviemakers to San Francisco, but it has recently been dealing with its own behind-the-scenes drama.

Longtime producer and Commissioner Debbie Brubaker has come under scrutiny for her dealings with The City’s Film Office, which is overseen by the commission. Allegations include that she improperly used her position to influence hiring decisions and gain perks for productions.

“I have done nothing wrong,” said Brubaker, who resigned from the commission late Friday afternoon. “I have not benefited from being a film commissioner. There isn’t any room for insider information or collusion or anything like that.”

The City has released hundreds of emails between Brubaker and film office head Susannah Robbins as a result of a public records complaint, which is before The City’s Sunshine Ordinance Task Force Wednesday. The case raises questions about the film office’s operations and Brubaker’s involvement.

Brubaker said she stepped down to put an end to a protracted process of having to defend herself against what she called false allegations from someone out to get her for “working on jobs he wanted.”

That person is Clifford Roseman, a longtime unit production manager.

“From the beginning it has never been about a personal attack on anyone,” Roseman said. “This has been about a question of whether or not certain practices were going on regarding employment lists and permitting procedures.”

In a March 1, 2012, email, Robbins seemingly reprimanded Brubaker for interfering with the permit process for the short-lived “Alcatraz” television series.

“While I understand you are just trying to make sure that everything goes smoothly, it’s awkward, with you being a Commissioner, and getting this involved in the permits,” the email said. “I think it is putting Christine in an awkward place. This has come up before, but I feel like it’s time that I mention something about it.”

Brubaker said she was not acting as a commissioner in those dealings, but later apologized. She also said the phrase “this has come up before” was in reference to a previous commissioner, not herself.

Under city law, commissioners are prohibited from using their appointed positions for private gain. City Attorney’s Office spokesman Matt Dorsey said “complicated” legal issues can arise on commissions that “require or authorize industry involvement.” The office is looking into the Brubaker accusations.

Roseman said he pursued the emails to try to prove his suspicions that the Film Office was providing producers with “employment lists” of those recommended by Brubaker, which he said creates an “unfair advantage.”

Emails show Brubaker does make hiring recommendations, including one email where she recommends three people for a job and notes they work non-union. She also writes about the potential for cutting the Southern California Teamsters 399 out of San Francisco filming business, instead using the local Teamsters union to reduce costs for prospective productions.

When asked about those emails, Robbins said, “We encourage film productions to independently review and select the film production staff most appropriate for their needs.”

In response to the union comments, Robbins said, “The Film Commission supports union labor, regardless of its source or location, on film productions in San Francisco.”

Another email exchange shows Brubaker ensuring last year’s Woody Allen production, which she was working on, qualifies for The City’s tax break for films, which requires at least 65 percent of production filming be here.

“Technically we should be in SF 1 more day than we are, (we are in Marin 3 days, and New York for 8). If we need to change it because we are in jeopardy of losing the rebate we’ll have to make Woody change his mind about a couple locations and come back. We don’t want to lose the program,” Brubaker’s July 16, 2012, email said.

Robbins said Friday that Allen actually shot more than 65 percent of the film in The City.

“His film received a rebate in accordance with the same requirements applicable to all film productions,” she said.
On Friday, Brubaker forwarded to The San Francisco Examiner her resignation to Mayor Ed Lee; mayors appoint the film commissioners. Brubaker was appointed to the post in May 2010 by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom.

In separate a resignation letter sent to Robbins, Brubaker said, “By removing myself from the commission, and what I see as a toxic situation, it all goes away.”

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