SF film rebate program has given out $2.5 million to productions that spent $44.2 million locally 

click to enlarge Blue Jasmine
  • Courtesy photo
  • Woody Allen’s film “Blue Jasmine” received a $164,136 rebate for filming in San Francisco.
Although San Francisco is not likely to ever attract Hollywood blockbuster sequels through its film rebate program, like New Zealand recently did, city officials say the tax breaks are worth it.

The impact of the rebates on driving film employment to The City, however, can be difficult to assess.

Since the program was created seven years ago, 17 productions have received rebates ranging from $1,618 to $699,489, totaling $2.5 million, according to a new City Controller’s Office report. The productions are estimated to have collectively spent $44.2 million locally, which includes $14.1 million in wages to residents.

It is the economic investment that supporters point to as debates around the world question whether film rebates are the best use of public dollars.

Woody Allen’s recently shot “Blue Jasmine” brought both a wave of enthusiastic fans and economic activity. Under The City’s film rebate program, about 3.5 percent of a production’s local spending is reimbursed. But that amount is a far cry from the 25 percent break New Zealand offered in a recent deal to lure the “Avatar” sequels.

The film rebate program — created in 2006 after employment in the film industry declined by 29 percent in five years — caters to a small industry segment. The Film Commission reports 7,224 total permitted days of shooting in San Francisco between fiscal year 2006-07 and December 2013, with 637, or 8.8 percent, by rebated productions.

For instance, the Allen production received a $164,136 rebate. New tracking of film production spending shows the “Blue Jasmine” 33-day production spent $827,537 locally. That includes things such as $83,767 for 399 hotel rooms, 982 car rentals for $49,915, $115,584 in food, $116,488 in local sales taxes, $188,922 in location fees and $73,475 on security detail.

But the required use of The City’s local-first source program, which connects low-income residents with jobs, has been low, the report shows, with six productions hiring participants. Two larger productions hired as many as 54 and 50.

While recipients said the rebate was a key factor in deciding to film in San Francisco, their productions account for just 2 percent of the total wages in the film industry. The report concludes that “it is unlikely that the Film Rebate Program has been the primary driver of this upward trend” in film industry employment.

While use of the program peaked in 2009-2010, its popularity is off to a strong start in the first six months of the fiscal year, which started July 1, with six productions receiving more than $700,000 in rebates and generating approximately $3.6 million in local spending.

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