The city is listening to why and hoping a film office will bring them back.
Area filmmaker and producer Nick Leisure's most recent film is set in Sacramento - but she shot the entire film at a sound stage in another country. "It's sad that we just shot a movie (based on an event) that takes place in Sacramento, and we shot the whole thing in Mexico," Leisure told the Business Journal. "This is my hometown. I know Sacramento inside and out. ... (but) it's easier to make a film in Mexico."
Leisure isn't alone. Felipe Cisneros, a fellow area filmmaker is also planning to shoot a feature-length film in Mexico. The two filmmakers told the business journal they would like to shoot future projects in Sacramento, but the costs are too high-in part because the city does not have a department solely devoted to facilitating and incentivizing film shoots.
But Sacramento is trying to change that. This week, after seeking bids on a request for proposals, the city selected Metris arts Consulting to assess the film production market in Sacramento. The Easton, Pennsylvania-based firm will be responsible for recommending ways to enhance the market and make Sacramento more attractive for the film industry. The goal, according to documents released by the city, is to develop a city film office that can provide incentives for film makers and facilitate shoots – from commercials to feature-length films.
Part of what this consultant will do is sit down filmmakers to figure out what they’re looking for,” said Jody Ulich, director of convention and cultural services for the city of Sacramento. In the past, she said,” We haven’t been set up to assist them.” Ulich added the city’s contract with Metris stipulates the cost of the assessment will not exceed $50,000.
Julie Burros, principal cultural planner with Metris Arts Consulting, said they will be working on the assessment project with consultant Rich Moskal, a film industry veteran who was director of the Chicago Film Office from 1996 to 2018. Burros said Metris plans to get started on the assessment in early April, and the process should take about eight months.
“We will give ongoing support during the assessment and then check back in about a year to see how our recommendations are being implemented,” Burros said. “Sacramento is being so thoughtful and deliberate about this process. It’s a great approach they’re taking.”
Leisure latest film, “A Clear Shot”, is based on the hostage standoff that occurred at a Good Guys! Electronics store in South Sacramento in 1991. Three hostages and three perpetrators died during the standoff, and 14 hostages were injured.
Leisure told the Business Journal he was intent on making the film in Sacramento, since it has a local connection. He had a budge of up to $250,000 and could afford up to $625,000 in deferrals – that is, charges that would be paid after the movie sold. When Leisure approached the city about shooting the film in Sacramento, the projected cost began to skyrocket.
“The construction costs were going to kill me if I was going to do it here,” said Rigo Felix, an area accountant who served as controller and co-producer on “A Clear Shot.” According to Felix, the crew has to build a set for the film based on the Good Guys! Location.
Leisure has shot short films, commercials and promotional videos in Sacramento, but he decided to look elsewhere for this feature-length film. Leisure chose to shoot the movie at Baja Studios in Rosarito Mexico. The studio was first built by Twentieth Century Fox to film portions of the movie “Titanic”.
“A Clear Shot” cost about half a million dollars to shoot in Mexico, according to Felix. He estimates it would have cost at least $1 million if they shot it in Sacramento. The film is currently in post-production and a release date has not been announces, according to Leisure.
Cisneros told the Business Journal he recently chose Mexico over Sacramento to shoot his first feature-length film. He previously shot several short films in Sacramento, but said shooting a feature-length film here would cost too much.
“When it comes to getting access to certain locations (in Sacramento) , there’s a lot of red tape,” Cisneros said. “I realized that it was going to cost me and arm and a leg.” Cisneros’ film, a psychological thriller titled “One and the Same,” bill begin shooting in Baja Studios in the coming months.
Cisneros said he would “jump at the change” to shoot future projects in Sacramento-if it was more cost-effective. Filming in other locations, he said, means being away from his family for long stretches of time. Transporting actors and crew between the U.S and Mexico for shoots, he added, can post logistical challenges.
“We’d love to have some more shoots here in Sacramento,” said Felix. “We’d love to have more investment in Sacramento. We’d love Sacramento to become a hub for this….but you’ve got to have the infrastructure.”
CREATING A NEW FILM OFFICE
Sacramento currently has a film commission through its tourism bureau, Visit Sacramento.
But that commission “doesn’t have the functional knowledge of how the (industry) works,” Felix said. “As a result, they can’t give you the concessions you need.” Ulich acknowledges that Sacramento’s efforts to attract the film industry have fallen short in the past.
“The criticisms are fair,” Ulich told the Business Journal. “Sacramento has not put as much emphasis on this in recent years. And it’s something that we’re missing.” Ulich said the film commission under Visit Sacramento performed to the best of its abilities, but its lacked funding.
Several years ago, according to Ulich, filmmaker and Sacramento native Greta Gerwig approached the city to discuss shooting her feature-length film “Lady Bird” in Sacramento. But the city had little to offer.
“They contacted our office and we had no grants,” Ulich said. “We didn’t have any funding for them. We wrote a letter of support for a state grant.”
Laurie Pederson, executive director of Capital Film Arts Alliance in Sacramento, said the experience made it clear to the city that it needed better resources when it came to attracting filmmakers.
“That became kind of shameful sore spot for the city,” Pederson told the Business Journal. “They realized, ‘Man, opportunity is knocking but no one has a key to the door.' ”
The project didn’t win the state grant, according to Ulich. Nevertheless, Gerwig shot much of “Lady Bird” in Sacramento. The film went on to garner five Academy Award nominations.
Ulich said the city was fortunate that Gerwig still shot the film in Sacramento. And she hopes the creation of a city film office will allow Sacramento to seize more of those opportunities.
Last year, the city released its Creative Edge Plan, which explored ways to promote Sacramento’s arts scene and creative economy. The plan called for “making strategic investments to leverage growth in the region’s film sector,” which prompted the city to release the request for proposals.
INCENTIVES AND ASSISTANCE
In order for filmmakers to choose Sacramento, Felix said, they need incentives like capital funding, permit fee waivers, expedited approvals, access to preferred vendors with discounted rates and film location consultation. “There’s nothing that’s making us go, ‘We should shoot here,’” said Leisure. “We’re not getting rates on hotels, its so hard to get permitted…the city isn’t making it easy on you.”
A good film commission, Felix said, should help “facilitate and expedite” the logistics of shooting in Sacramento. He said film commissions in other cities cultivate preferred lists of vendors and businesses – such as caterers and hotels – that are willing to give discounted prices, instead of leaving it up to the film makers to negotiate.
“Otherwise you’re spending days and days looking around for these people,” Felix said. Felix also suggested the city film office could work with area universities to connect film crews with students looking for internships and on-set experiences. “You’ve got some major universities here,” Felix said. “We could use those people as interns and they could have real projects on their resume.”
The Capital Film Alliance is one of three respondents who bid on the city’s request for proposals to conduct an evaluation of the area film market and consult the city on setting up its film office. Pederson said building a database of vendors that provide film-related services-such as casting, lighting and site selection-would be an important asset for filmmakers coming to the area. She also said local incentives will be crucial for persuading filmmakers to choose Sacramento.
“Creating competitive incentives would be a tool in the tool belt for the city film commissioner to go out and sell Sacramento,” Pederson told the Business Journal. Pederson said city officials indicated some funding for the film office could come from Measure U, the sales tax increase approved by voters in November.
Ulich said the city is open to the possibility of offering cash incentives, fee waivers and other services that would facilitate filmmaking in Sacramento. “We recognize that incentives (and) making it easier to get permits are important,”Ulich said.
California offers $330 million in tax credits to support film production statewide, but Ulich said local jurisdictions need to supplement those incentives. She said the city will assemble a panel to evaluate the proposals submitted to the city in the next few weeks. “We’re moving quickly on this,” Ulich said.
Published March 15, 2019 by the Sacramento Business Journal