It was of great sadness to hear that the San Diego Film Commission had closed their doors after 36 years of service. It had attracted up to $100 million in direct production company spending each year to the San Diego region. No multipliers, no estimates, no guesses: direct, accountable and audited benefit to the San Diego economy. At that time, the Film Commission was funded by government (the city, county and Unified Port of San Diego) and was attracting $100 of production spending for every dollar the government spent to support the commission; a great investment in anybody’s portfolio. To value it solely by room nights and defund it totally based on that does a great injustice to the value it has to the economic boost it gives the county, city and port. Room night revenue constitutes less than a third of the direct production company spending. That is why it is so important for those governments to fund the Film Commission.
The Film Commission created thousands of local jobs, not just the grips and gaffers of the film industry, but caterers, laundromats and dry cleaners. When “Titanic” filmed in Baja with the aid of the Film Commission, American Shoe Repair fixed 200 pairs of wet shoes a day and had to hire more people. Seventy million dollars was spent on San Diego doctors, nurses, extras, catering and make-up artists, too.
I think it is sad that the benefits are so understated. There was not one lawsuit in 36 years of regulating film production that sometimes entailed stunts, gun fire, and explosions. I credit that to knowledgeable staff with film industry experience in their background, and the great work of the police and fire liaisons.
We had the model film commission in San Diego when it was funded by government. We were the first one founded in California and later the first film commission operating independently of an umbrella organization such as a chamber of commerce or convention and visitors’ bureau. This is significant, because all our funding was used to attract and service film production and our local community, not to assist the umbrella organization. We sought out unusual locations and sold them to production in Hollywood. We pitched story ideas for San Diego and got them. “Anchorman” started out with a Portland destination and storyline and “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” was originally scripted for New York.
In the 1990s I brought producer Stu Segall to San Diego; he subsequently began a television series business that brought $800 million in direct spending during his years of filming. He hired locals and paid businesses for locations, and thousands of extras had day-to-day work. To name a few, there shows like “Silk Stalkings,” “Renegade,” “Bring it On,” “Pensacola: Wings of Gold,” and “Invisible Man.” Keeping fast-paced television series meant redesigning the permit process and creating a service customized to this lucrative business. Feature films like “Traffic,” “Anchorman,” and “Bruce Almighty” did not fall in our laps. They took pitches in development, location scouts, hard negotiating and when they began filming, providing expert and knowledgeable experience to assist their production. It’s not every day a team like mine could be put together that created such great results.
Like with any business, knowledge, passion and expertise are essential if there is any hope of being successful. The governments in San Diego should re-examine the benefits that the San Diego Film Commission brought to San Diego in the past and provide funding to again generate the level of economic benefit that the region has realized in the past.