City officials revamp perks for filming in San Francisco 

As locations such as Vancouver, British Columbia, and New Mexico offer film productions huge tax breaks, San Francisco is giving moviemakers a different sort of perk to breathe new life into an industry that once flourished in The City.

What kind of perks? A bottle of wine on the house, a free cup of crab-and-corn chowder, a reduction in hotel room rates and no charge to enter the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. These are just some of the discounts that San Francisco is now offering film productions to woo them to San Francisco.

While The City cannot afford to offer the same huge tax breaks as other locations, according to Matt Stiker of the San Francisco Travel Association, these smaller discounts can make a difference — even if they seem trivial.

“They really add up,” the marketing officer said, and thus can “push someone over the edge” to decide to film here.
Under The City’s new vendor discount program, local businesses such as hotels, spas, clothing stores and rental car companies agree to offer discounts. Crew members are provided special cards they can present at participating businesses. The program is modeled after a similar one in New York City.

Luring film productions here is seen as a significant economic boon — not only from the direct spending that ensues, but also from the visitors who will be drawn to San Francisco after seeing its iconic visage projected on the silver screen.

“The economic impact of the production alone can be in the millions of dollars,” Stiker said, adding that the economic ripples are felt across multiple industries, including hotels and dry cleaners.

“I’m trying to find ways to make The City more affordable to film in,” said Susannah Robbins, the executive director of the San Francisco Film Commission. She hopes more businesses sign up in the coming months.

Robbins said the upcoming Steven Soderbergh film “Contagion,” which is shooting in The City next month, will be the first crew to use the discount program. On Friday, the production ordered 100 discount cards.

According to a report by the Film Commission, The City’s film industry took a beating 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.

Since then, city officials have tried to turn around the ailing industry by streamlining The City’s notoriously complex permitting system and establishing a film rebate program in 2006. Productions can receive a refund of up to $600,000 on fees and payroll taxes paid to The City during production.

Feature films, TV episodes and pilots are all eligible for the program. Films made in San Francisco since the rebate program was introduced include “The Heartbreak Kid,” “Milk” and “La Mission.” TV series include “Trauma,” “Journeyman” and “Women’s Murder Club.”

“There’s definitely a renewed energy and spirit,” Stiker said of San Francisco’s film activity.

In 2010, there was a 31 percent increase in days of shooting compared to 2009, according to Robbins.


Incentives for shooting film in The City

The Film Office has launched a new incentive program to lure more productions to San Francisco. The vendor discount program allows production crews to enjoy benefits at hotels, restaurants, spas and other businesses that have signed up to participate. Here are some examples:

  • Arata Fine Art Gallery: 10 percent off any item under $300; 20 percent off any item over $300
  • Blue & Gold Fleet: 25 percent off fully narrated one-hour Bay Cruise Adventure, the Escape From the Rock Cruise or a RocketBoat high-speed adventure
  • Blue Mermaid Chowder House and Bar: Free cup of crab-and-corn chowder or glass of house wine, with purchase of entree
  • Britex Fabrics: 10 percent off regularly priced fabrics
  • Cafe Pescatore: 15 percent discount on bill — food items and nonalcoholic beverages only
  • Clift hotel: Discounts of up to 20 percent off best available rate for groups of 10 or more rooms per night
  • Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco: Minimum of 10 percent off best available rates
  • Siegel’s Clothing Superstore & Tuxedos: For formal wear/tuxedo needs, Siegel’s will give a flat $10 off each rental


Upcoming productions in San Francisco


  • Philip Kaufman’s “Hemingway & Gellhorn” shoots from February through May
  • Steven Soderbergh film “Contagion,” which begins filming next month
  • 13-episode show for Cooking Channel, modeled after BBC’s popular “Chinese Food Made Easy,” is expected to start shooting this spring
  • Warner Bros. television pilot “Alcatraz” shooting this month

Source: San Francisco Film Commission

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