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San Diego Film Commission Dismantled, Now What?

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Film Commission
San Diego Film Commission Dismantled, Now What?
Cathy Anderson, Founder, San Diego Film CommissionJodi Cilley, Founder, San Diego Film Consortium

CAVANAUGH: If you enjoy spotting San Diego locations in TV shows and movies, you better rent some old DVDs. After several years of cuts, the San Diego film commission was finally dismantled last month when the tourism authority laid off the last three members of the commission. Its task was to promote San Diego as a film-friendly location and help movie-makers set up shop. At its peak, the film commission was bringing in $100 million a year in direct production company spending. My guest, Cathy Anderson, founder and CEO of the former commission. Welcome to the program. ANDERSON: Thank you. CAVANAUGH: Now, this final blow to the commission came after several years where you saw your budget shrink. What were the reasons given for the cutbacks? ANDERSON: Well, they were financial, and it's mostly because it should have been in the city. It's a city, government-funded organization. And once it went to another funding source, the tourism industry, it didn't have 100% support. And it only was noticing or recognizing one of its many benefits, which was hotel room night, not the other many, many assets. CAVANAUGH: That's one of the arguments that you make, that when the tourism authority, when you were being funded by the hotel association, basically, they just looked at how many rooms the film commission was responsible for booking each year. But you say the impact on the economy was much broader than that. ANDERSON: That's correct. When you think about the economic boost it brought San Diego, thousands and thousands of jobs it created, and it affected laundromats, and car rentals and gas stations, and created work there. It also created more transit occupancy tax. But all kinds of people were affected by the tremendous support that this brought. CAVANAUGH: Now, since you are under the tourism authority, when they had their cutbacks due to disputes with the mayor about their funding, your staff wound up being eliminated; is that right? ANDERSON: Yes. It basically started to go downhill when Sanders defunded the film commission and put them in the tourism agency. It began to shrink every year, and it was noticeable in the amount of service and attention it could give the film industry. CAVANAUGH: That your commission could give the film industry? ANDERSON: Exactly. CAVANAUGH: Because your staff was reduced, everything was reduced, right? ANDERSON: It was. And we were good at attracting work, and it was done true our millions of contacts and word of mouth. We coordinated stunts, we did things that were so much more, made certain the film was regulated, we looked at things in development and pitched. A lot of the work we got was things we directly pitched and negotiated to get here. Then we made certain that qualified, local people got jobs on it. CAVANAUGH: Give us a quick history of the film commission. When was it formed? ANDERSON: It was formed for the first time in 1975 by Pete Wilson and put in the Chamber of Commerce. And I took it out in 1997 and created an independent film commission that was still government-funded. And by doing so, we were able to outsource the permit process for the government and save the government money. But more importantly, we had experienced staff that could be proactive and troubleshoot and make sure that filming was safe and that the impact on the community was satisfactory. CAVANAUGH: So when a film producer or a TV producer came to the San Diego film commission, came to you and said I need help, I want to film in San Diego, I think I want to film in San Diego, what can you do for me, what could you do for them? ANDERSON: Well, we made certain that our local locations, government, private ones, all kinds of locations were exposed to the script. We'd look at the script. We would break down the script, and to the level of impact suggest certain neighborhoods and make certain the right experts were put together. We basically spent time with them, did tech scouts with them. Sometimes we even did sample pyrotechnical testing to make sure the pyrotechnics were safe and so on. Looking at the script, like in traffic -- CAVANAUGH: Movie traffic. ANDERSON: Yes, we started with seven days, and due to my experienced staff and the work they did, it was expanded to more than three weeks. CAVANAUGH: And if they needed limousine service, you got that for them, caters, you got that for them. And the city permitting process. You got them through that as well. ANDERSON: It wasn't just the city permit. We wrote the permit system for filming on behalf of the government. And in doing so, it was an incentive and attracted more film production because of how innovative it was and how direct it was. And instead of writing a permit, it was an oral permit. And by doing so, you gain a lot of conversation from the filmmaker you might not have had otherwise. And therefore you can be proactive and good about trouble shooting. CAVANAUGH: What were some of the most memorable productions that you helped bring to town? ANDERSON: There was the Antoine Fisher story, which was a great piece to show off our military and so on. Almost Famous, Bring it On, Bruce Allmighty. Even titanic. CAVANAUGH: That was filmed in Baja. ANDERSON: Yes, and we helped set up the Baja film commission so it could work there. But other work is our local, Killer Tomatoes, Flirting with Disaster, My Blue Heaven. Everybody remembers Top Gun. We really brought in a lot of TV series, Renegade, Veronica Mars, we even attracted American Idol. Many, many projects. (Audio Recording Played) CAVANAUGH: That's Tom Cruz and cast of Top Gun. Where was that scene filmed? ANDERSON: Part of it was Kansas City Barbecue. They used the plunge in Pacific beach. Laurel Street became part of a location for that. A lot of famous spots from San Diego. CAVANAUGH: Now, how much do you estimate that the move and he TV productions filmed here contributed to the economy? I saw a figure of $100 million a year. ANDERSON: Well, up to that. We averaged $60 million or so, and we hit the peak of $100 million. We had surveys, and we would ask, because we're the permit office, you're not going to get cooperation anyways, but we knew their budgets, and they signeded a survey that told exactly where they spent their money. So we had it itemized. And you may not know this, but on a typical series like Veronica Mars, there are 200 local vendors working on that, which again goes back to the laundromats, dry cleaners. So it was a very, very lucrative business. Sideways filmed a tiny spot here. Ten of the crew and producer went into a Cohen restaurant and spent $10,000 on wine! [ LAUGHTER ] CAVANAUGH: Now, the film commission when it was under the tourism authority was made up of three people. Now, do you think it was basically losing effectiveness and not generating enough revenue because of the funding it was receiving? ANDERSON: I do believe so. It's hard work in California bringing work in because there's so many incentives challenging us within the United States, even. But it was our experienced staff and the time we spent to pitch and look at things in development and bring them in. But those three people had all they could handle just to handle what fell in their lap. CAVANAUGH: Now, I want to bring in another guest on the phone right now. Jodi, could you say your last name for me? CILLEY: "Silly." CAVANAUGH: Thank you. I don't want to say Cilley if it wasn't Cilley. Founder of the San Diego film consortium. Welcome to the show. CILLEY: Thank you. CAVANAUGH: Now, your group is a nonprofit. It's a private entity. How is your mission different from that of the film commission? CILLEY: We actually have two entities, an LLC, running our events, and a nonprofit entity as well. Our mission is different in that we actually started -- I started what we were doing because we were looking to -- looking around San Diego, and there was a giant need and a large talent pool here that wasn't connected, it wasn't organized, it wasn't being developed through productions here in San Diego. So as a teacher, I started seeing a lot of my students get out of school and not have any work here in San Diego and feel like they needed to move to L.A. or other places. So our mission really came out of seeing there was an opportunity to bring together our film community here, mobilizing them to start producing work together, that would allow them to build their reel, their experience, opportunities networking across the different elements of the community. And that's where we came from. CAVANAUGH: So is your group more about encouraging San Diego filmmakers rather than perhaps bringing outside production companies to town? CILLEY: Well, our group has a long-term vision. Our vision is that if we build an infrastructure here that is easily accessible, the talent pool, the locations are safely accessible, and there is it an institution here that produces work, almost like Austin, Texas, that that in itself will attract work. And in the long run, we want to shift that model from let's film here in San Diego and work together to let's bring film to San Diego. So the first phase is to establish something here. From there, we wanted to reach out and bring things from other places. CAVANAUGH: Now, what are your outreach efforts like? CILLEY: In terms of -- CAVANAUGH: In terms of you're going to be building a core of talented people here in San Diego, but how are you reaching out to perhaps producers out of town? CILLEY: Well, like I said, we're currently working locally and bringing together the community locally. Through that, we've not necessarily reached out, but people have found out about us and connected with us from out of town as well. A lot of people who were raised here or lived here and want to see San Diego be successful. So our outreach effort to outside communities and productions is kind of developing as we speak. We want to see both here, but we started with what we already have here. CAVANAUGH: Now, do you think the film consortium can fill the gap that's been left by the film commission? CILLEY: I think the film commission and the -- what our goal right now to do is to do the best we can to fill some of the gap that is left because of the film commission. The film commission, as Kathy mentioned, these budget cuts have been happening for years. So the gap in the local film community has been evident for almost a decade. A lot of the productions that have happen leader in the past are dated, that happened a long time ago, these bigger productions. So a lot of the production community has been out of work and just alienated from the film commission for a very long time. So what we stepped in to do was actually to fill the gap because we saw this tremendous need locally for there to be this sort of community and this opportunity to work and opportunity to develop talent. And I'll be honest, the response has been tremendous. We have had thousands of people come out to our events, we have a database of hundreds and hundreds of members and hundreds and hundreds of local businesses that play in this field. We've garnered the support across various educational institutions like UCSD, San Diego State, city college, local businesses, nonprofits, film festivals. That list is building as we go. CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you so much for joining us. CILLEY: Okay, thank you! CAVANAUGH: And Kathy, do you believe the consortium will be able to fill the gap left by the commission? ANDERSON: I think we need all the help we can get. Obviously we're in trouble. But I do believe -- I've been called by some different entities in San Diego, and I think that with the city, county, and court, having film contacts, and we have had this wonderful offer from our location managers that are very skilled. The one leading it actually used to work for us. And they're going to offer a service to make certain that there's a little bit of what we had before. But it's the contacts in L.A. we have, word of mouth, being able to talk to people we used to work with and get them to come back. They have an expectation, and the expectation is that major cities have film commissions. And without a film commission, your city doesn't want filming. That's the perception. So we've got to overcome that. CAVANAUGH: And are you going to work back the commission? ANDERSON: I am working at that. CAVANAUGH: All right. Well, come back to us and tell us how you're doing. ANDERSON: Okay, thank you!

If you enjoy spotting San Diego locations in TV shows and movies, you'd better rent some old DVDs.

After several years of cuts, the San Diego Film Commission was finally dismantled last month when the Tourism Authority laid off the last three members of the commission.

The Film Commission was a one-stop shop for filmmakers that helped them process film permits, scout locations and find talent.

It helped bring major productions, such as Jurassic Park, Top Gun and Anchorman, to town.

Officials say that at its peak, the Film Commission was bringing in $100 million a year in direct production company spending.

Cathy Anderson, who founded the commission 36 years ago, believes it should be revived and adds that its closure left film crews scrambling.

"A couple of weeks ago, the tourism folks closed the Film Commission for good and left filming with no plans on how to assist them. I am getting all sorts of calls," she said.

The commission was funded by a variety of government sources and last year it was incorporated into San Diego's Tourism Authority.

Last month, the Tourism Authority said that because of a drop in funding from legal woes over its Tourism Marketing District Fee, it was forced to lay off 40 percent of its staff including the entire SDFC.

Today, the Film Consortium, a non-profit group dedicated to building the film industry in San Diego, announced that it plans to fill the gap left by the closing of the Film Commission.

“The Film Consortium is committed to making San Diego a world-class filmmaking destination and ensure both local and production companies from outside the city have easy access into the vast talent pool and resources that we have here,” said Film Consortium Founder and President Jodi Cilley. “Through our efforts, we believe production teams will not only find San Diego to be a hospitable place for production, but they will also hire locally and spend more money on local businesses. This promises to be a tremendous boost to our economy. Permitting is an imperative part of that process and we want to move fast to make sure the gap left by the Film Commission does not shut down or scare away filmmaking from our city.”

Cilley says the organization will expand its services next month to include processing film permits.

Fees will be assessed on a sliding scale based on the film's budget.

The organization has plans to contract with former Film Commission staff to assist with building infrastructure and gaining contacts across the agencies that are affected by film production.

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner spoke at one of the consortium's networking events earlier this year. At the time, the group was counting on the mayor and the city to bring better and more opportunities to San Diego filmmakers.

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