Filming of movies, TV series up 26 percent in San Francisco 

click to enlarge City on film: “Contagion,” left, was a big-budget movie that shot scenes in The City. (Courtesy photo) - CITY ON FILM: “CONTAGION,” LEFT, WAS A BIG-BUDGET MOVIE THAT SHOT SCENES IN THE CITY. (COURTESY PHOTO)
  • City on film: “Contagion,” left, was a big-budget movie that shot scenes in The City. (Courtesy photo)
  • City on film: “Contagion,” left, was a big-budget movie that shot scenes in The City. (Courtesy photo)

Hollywood actor sightings, movie-extra auditions and production jobs are on the rise in San Francisco, a promising sign as The City has spent years trying to breathe life into the film industry.

There was a 26 percent increase in film activity such as commercials, feature movies and television series last fiscal year compared to the year before, a trend the Film Commission hopes continues.

The filming activity included eight feature films such as Philip Kaufman’s “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” which based production in The City, and Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion,” starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law. Also included were the final episodes of the NBC television series “Trauma,” which was canceled.

Film Commission Executive Director Susannah Robbins has set a goal this year of landing another television series. She would not reveal any details, only saying, “There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon.”

Movie, TV and commercial productions in San Francisco mean jobs, a cash infusion to the local economy and a tourism boost when The City’s iconic images are broadcast or shown on the silver screen. Last fiscal year, film productions spent $56.23 million on labor, hotel stays, supplies and other costs, and $158,500 for city permit fees.

In 2006, The City initiated a film rebate program in an attempt to lure more TV and movie productions to San Francisco. Under the program, productions can receive a rebate on city fees, including up to four police officers, which cost $1,200 a day, $1,000 for use of a Muni trademark, film permit fees of $300 per day and payroll taxes. A rebate could not exceed $600,000. “Trauma” received $164,276 in a rebate for four episodes last fiscal year.

“I’m sure some people will complain, ‘Why are we giving money away to Hollywood?’” Robbins said. But, “we’re giving back money they already spent,” and the money they spend locally far exceeds any rebate they would receive, she said.

Supervisor Mark Farrell has proposed expanding The City’s film rebate program to include documentary films and reality TV programming such as cooking or adventure shows. Farrell’s proposal comes before the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee on Wednesday.

Robbins said the proposal is driven by interest, such as the possibility of a $5 million, 12-episode documentary series — the focus of which she wouldn’t reveal. Also, she said reality shows have grown into big-budget productions.

The legislation would also slash the $300-a-day film permit fee to $100 for small-budget films.

Alexa Fraser-Herron, general manager of Scary Cow, an indie-film co-op in San Francisco, said the proposal “can only be good.” She said indie filmmakers often rush scenes without permits to avoid getting in trouble, but with the lower fee will pay it and have the time to “shoot a stronger scene.” Small businesses stand to benefit too by winding up in shots of these indie films that are shown in film festivals around the world, she said.



Films or shows featuring scenes shot in San Francisco in FY2010-11:

Feature films

  • “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
  • “Big Sur”
  • “On the Road”
  • “Hemingway & Gellhorn”
  • “Contagion”
  • “Cherry”
  • “Knife Fight”
  • “Five Year Engagement”

Television series

  • “Alcatraz” (pilot)
  • “Top Gear” (one episode)
  • “American Idol” (one episode)
  • “Good Morning America” (one episode)
  • “Clean House” (one episode)
  • “The Nine Lives of Chloe King” (one episode)
  • “Precinct 17” (one episode)

Source: San Francisco Film Commission


By the numbers

  • 753: Shoot days in FY2009-10
  • 953: Shoot days in FY2010-11
  • $56.23 million: Total budgets of film productions
  • $28.69 million: Total budgets for feature films
  • $12 million: Total budgets for TV commercials

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