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Arts & Culture

San Diego's Film Community Optimistic After City Council Budget Meeting

San Diego filmmaker Dante Moran (far right) on the set of his current production "Penance."
Dante Moran/Inferno Productions
San Diego filmmaker Dante Moran (far right) on the set of his current production "Penance."

The San Diego film community came out in force on Thursday at a City Council committee meeting to make a show of solidarity for more government support of the city's film industry.

If you are only casually following the film industry in San Diego, you may be confused by the various names popping up: San Diego Film Consortium, San Diego Film Commission, San Diego Film Commission Foundation, and the Film Office. Suffice it to say that the goal of all of these organizations it to try to find a way to keep talented film people in San Diego and to attract projects from Los Angeles and around the globe to come here to shoot.

The approaches may vary, but the goals of the groups are similar. At the Budget Review Committee Meeting, attention was focused on getting funding for the formation of a Film Office with at least one dedicated staff person.

Jodi Cilley has been busy founding and advancing the San Diego Film Consortium, which is dedicated to creating networking opportunities for San Diego filmmakers and keeping talented folks here. At the meeting she spoke about the “exciting times” we are in right now.

“In the past few years, despite the lack of visiting film productions, there has been a fast-growing and thriving independent film community in San Diego. Thousands of people have been working together to produce films locally using local talent, crew, resources and all the beautiful locations that our amazing city has to offer," Cilley said.

"Currently, there is a growing opportunity to turn that community into an industry. The hard work has not gone unnoticed. In the fall we’ll be launching a show on KPBS about the local film community. We have also been heavily encouraged by the Tourism Marketing District to seek funds to establish a ‘Film Week’ in San Diego that attracts people to San Diego to make, watch and learn about film," she said. "Given this backdrop, I want to thank Mayor (Kevin) Faulconer for his effort to work with the film community and to address the lack of a film office that facilitates permitting and marketing of the region as a destination to film. I spoke with the mayor when he was a City Council member as well as after he became mayor, and I was excited that he shared our vision for a thriving film industry in San Diego.”

After the meeting, where other members of the film community spoke, Cilley posted on Facebook, “What a supportive bunch of wonderful people. THIS is the world I want to live in. We may disagree on how to get there but today it was clear that we all want to end up in the same place.”

Karl Backus, who is with the San Diego Film Commission Foundation, said after the meeting in a statement, “I was extremely encouraged by the meeting with the Council regarding the Mayor’s Budget and specifically the allocation of funds for the Film Commission. The council has responded positively to the concerns expressed by the Film Community and would like to know how the City can actually fund the Commission appropriately to maximize the return on the investment and efficacy of the Film Commission. Councilman Gloria requested specifically that the Mayor’s Office provide recommendations on spending in the event the Council opted to increase the proposed funding amount.”

He added, “After speaking with the Mayor’s representative, Kristin Tillquist, I have a modicum of hope that the City will actually support the creation of an Independent Film Commission which represents the entire Region, and whose existence isn’t dependent upon a single source of funding.

"As we have seen in the previous incarnation of the Film Commission, funding and support seemed to rest upon the whim and personality of the Mayor — a structure which in the last 5 years has cost the regional economy untold millions in lost revenue. My persistent fear, however, is that a year from now the Region will still not have dedicated, independent Film Commission," Backus said.

"I would prefer to see a more entrepreneurial approach to the Film Commission. Regardless of time spent on a study or which model we end up with, there will be problems that need to solved and new ways of doing things developed. These are issues that will be addressed as they arise. In the meantime, everyday the Region, doesn’t have a Film Commission, we are all losing money and opportunity — two things this Region needs desperately.”

Merrick McCartha starred in the film "A Case of Evil," an independent short shot in San Diego.
Neal Hallford
Merrick McCartha starred in the film "A Case of Evil," an independent short shot in San Diego.

Francine Filsinger, president of the group called San Diego Filmmakers, had this reaction to the meeting: “The overflow turnout by the filmmaking community at the San Diego Budget Review Committee Meeting was a very visible indication as to how important we feel re-establishing a Film Office in San Diego is. There was a strong indication of broad support from the reviewing Committee Members with several expressing not only their approval but also indicating an increase of the proposed allocation be examined. I am very hopeful a functional Film Office will be established and San Diego will once again take it’s place as a leader in the filmmaking and media industries resulting in more jobs and increased revenues for the communities of San Diego.”

Sandi Buehner, a member of the San Diego Film Commission Foundation board, was not at the meeting in any official capacity but rather as an interested citizen.

Buehner said, “I believe several of the Council members now understand the purpose and need of a Film Commission. Whether they understand, having a film office within the City of San Diego does not help the industry-at-large, because that leaves 17 other jurisdictions unaccounted for, remains to be seen. I believe some do understand the importance of the region-wide Film Commission or Film Office. I believe those who knew little or knew nothing at all about the industry are interested in learning more.”

Carlos Cota, business agent with IATSE Local 122, spoke at the meeting and respectfully urged "you all to please look into funding a fully functional Film Office.”

After the meeting, Cota concluded, “The overall reception and support regarding funding for the Film Office at the Council’s Budget Committee was extremely positive. They are definitely aware of the current opportunities the California Film and TV Tax Credit Program have produced. We are hoping City Council will adopt the Mayors recommendations and also add additional funding for necessary staffing needed for a functional Film Office. Council Member Todd Gloria eluded to the idea in his comments and has been very supportive of re-establishing San Diego as a production center for the television and film industry.”

Buehner said, the San Diego Film Commission Foundation “was originally formed to support the original Film Commission. However, when the Film Commission went away, our purpose seemed to be put on hold. Several people told us they were moving forward creating a new Film Commission and we waited.

It wasn’t until we saw the Mayor’s proposed plan that the board decided we couldn’t idly sit by and do nothing. The goal now is to ensure there is a region-wide Film Commission, preferably a charitable non-profit with funds from various government entities (as they would be outsourcing the permits), but with much additional funding through various fund raising activities.”

She concluded, “Now, our industry needs to talk about what we feel we need to support our local industry and learning what we need to support the outside industry. We’ve spent so much time waiting for others to solve this issue that we finally realized as an industry if we don’t take the lead, nothing will be done. It behooves us to work together and solve this issue once and for all. We need to ensure we are never in a position to be without a Film Commission again.”

Nothing concrete came out of the Thursday budget meeting but it helped increase optimism in the San Diego film community that the current Mayor is listening to their concerns.