Discussions are underway to replace what was once the San Diego Film Commission — eliminated as a result of 2013’s tourism-related city budget squabbling — with a new regional organization aimed at making San Diego County a competitive hub for movie and TV production.
The region over the decades has hosted shoots for films ranging from “Citizen Kane” to “Anchorman,” but has recently been crowded out by other U.S. venues offering similar visual settings, but more enticing financial terms.
“Preliminary talks are in progress on restoring the film industry in San Diego County,” said county Supervisor Dave Roberts.
The end results could be months away, but Roberts said he has recently held informal meetings with San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the local film community on ways to replace the former city film commission, which primarily was charged with arranging permits for TV, film, advertising and other media producers doing location shoots in the region.
Roberts said an alternative configuration — possibly a regional public-private or nonprofit organization — might be more effective at addressing the needs of the production community, as well as taking full advantage of expanded incentive programs announced last year by the state of California.
In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation more than tripling — to $330 million — the annual allocation of state tax credits designed to entice movie and TV producers to film in California. The state in recent years has been besieged by competition from several states offering tax incentives, fee discounts and other financial goodies to lure filmmakers, including New Mexico, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and Mississippi.
According to the most recently available full-year data, media production shoots had a total economic impact of more than $15.5 million in the San Diego region during 2012. That included 416 productions and 2,073 production days, generating 11,444 hotel room nights sold.
The production day figure — which included shoots for feature films, TV shows, print and other forms of advertising — was up 24 percent from 2011, but below the peak of 2,902 filming days seen in 2004.
County, city and media production leaders are now seeking ways to enhance the Hollywood profile of a region that has long hosted shoots for major films ranging from “Citizen Kane” and “Some Like it Hot,” to “Top Gun” and the “Anchorman,” along with numerous TV shows over the past seven decades.
“It’s in very early discussions now, and we look forward to presenting the people of San Diego with a good end product,” said Charles Chamberlayne, spokesman for Mayor Faulconer.
The San Diego Film Commission had been struggling financially for several years before it was taken under the wing of the San Diego Tourism Authority in 2012. A year later, the commission was disbanded and its three-member staff was laid off as the Tourism Authority dealt with a temporary funding logjam arising from then-mayor Bob Filner’s refusal to approve renewal of the Tourism Marketing District, which funds the bulk of local tourism promotion operations.
Film-permit processing duties once overseen by the film commission have since been taken over by various personnel within the city, county and Port of San Diego.
Going forward, said locally based film and television producer Dale Strack, the region will need a much more proactive program to bring in movie and TV series makers, and keep them coming here with a reliable base of competitive incentives and available production infrastructure.
“We’ve been pounding the table all along and saying that this region needs to put some kind of incentive package together, because it’s going to take a lot more than just processing permits,” said Strack, president and CEO of the nonprofit San Diego Film Foundation, which produces the annual fall San Diego Film Festival.
The festival each year brings around 20,000 visitors to the local market, and Strack said he frequently hears from film directors and producers that they would like to do more location shooting in San Diego County. However, they are not aware of incentives or local production facilities that would lure them away from nearby Los Angeles or the numerous out-of-state locations that are now receiving their business.
Strack attended some of the recent informal talks with local officials, and he said he likes the idea of a nonprofit organization that might tap the resources of the local corporate and philanthropic community to improve the media production climate. One approach, for instance, might be to establish local incentive programs with the help of private dollars, while also applying to available state programs geared to production.
“We’re really not in the game right now in terms of production,” Strack said. “But we shouldn’t really try to play the game until we first come up with some kind of attractive package to offer these producers.”
Joe Terzi, president and CEO of the Tourism Authority, said the film and TV industries play big roles in how potential visitors view the local region, and he’s confident that regional officials can come up with some type of organizational structure to support production, possibly later this year.