The Santa Barbara County Film Commission, in collaboration with the City of Santa Barbara, hosted a production seminar Monday, February 27, at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort. The event focused mainly on increasing film production, a lucrative industry, in Santa Barbara County. Area filmmakers, government officials, and law enforcement representatives were all in attendance.
Geoff Alexander, the event host, said that $12 million was spent by film productions in S.B. in 2011. He pointed out that all types of businesses benefit from film crews shooting in the county; hotels, restaurants, hardware suppliers, and the tourism industry were just a few cited. One example of a recent show shot in Santa Barbara was the latest season premiere of The Amazing Race. “They had eight minutes of Santa Barbara beauty shots on CBS prime time,” Alexander said. “Nine million people watched. There’s no way we could have paid for that kind of advertisement.”
Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider spoke next, telling an anecdote about how she realized the missed opportunities that losing film productions could lead to. “I was on an airplane, watching the TV,” she said, “and the show Psych was on. Now, I had heard of it before, but I hadn’t actually seen an episode, but I knew it was supposed to be set in Santa Barbara. I saw them walking downtown among all these high rises, palm trees, and everything was gray.” She paused for laughter.
Amy Lemisch, the California State Film Commissioner, showed a PowerPoint presentation about ways to reduce potential production costs, making Santa Barbara more desirable to filmmakers. Some of the ideas included streamlining the permitting process and offering city and county properties as free shooting locations.
Lemisch said that California offers tax breaks to productions with a $1 million to $10 million budget. “When will we have a tax incentive to compare with Georgia, Louisiana, or New Mexico?” one of the local filmmakers asked her. He said that he was a sound mixer, and due to competition in other states he has been steadily losing jobs. Lemisch admitted that California’s tax breaks are relatively modest and that it was a hard problem to fix. “We’re always in the hole,” she said, referring to the California state budget. “It’s hard to get politicians to understand that there’s a problem.” At a time when lawmakers are already cutting funding to social programs like education and health care, appearing to spend money on Hollywood is politically unsavory, even when it could potentially be very beneficial to the economy. “We have the best infrastructure in California,” another filmmaker in the audience said. “If we get within 10 percent or 20 percent of the tax breaks in other states, people will stay.”
Tom Fauntleroy, a first assistant director, talked about the current problems with shooting in Santa Barbara. “I just got back from doing a show in Prague,” he said, “and I hate to say it, but it was a great experience.” Fauntleroy talked about how, unless shooting on location is highly favorable, film productions will stay in Los Angeles. “If things get too difficult, people will leave,” Fauntleroy said, emphasizing the importance of good word-of-mouth. “Camera car permits that take 30 days — that’s an unacceptable amount of time for a film crew.” Alexander mentioned that, as far as permitting goes, one of the problems in S.B. is that the county permitting office is understaffed.
Fauntleroy also said that oftentimes S.B. police did not have enough officers available to monitor large film shoots, and that they were unwilling to let the California Highway Patrol come in and take over the job. One of the officers in the audience commented, “Since this is a local matter, chiefs will never give over the responsibility to the state police.” He was quickly contradicted by a CHP officer, who said that police in cities like Monrovia and Malibu (both known for having an abundance of on-location shooting) have no problem with the CHP coming into their city for a film shoot.
This CHP officer, Miguel Luevano, is whom the California Film Commission calls when moviemakers want police monitoring for a production. He had some advice for the seminar attendees, both in government and in the film industry: “Don’t be afraid of permits. It shouldn’t be that intimidating. It always works out somehow.” He also offered to come talk the SBPD about the process of monitoring film shoots, and he invited them to do a ride-along with him on one.
The seminar ended with a presentation of a high-tech piece of filmmaking equipment: a large camera crane mounted on a reinforced SUV. The car’s operator did a demonstration of how the device works, swinging the crane in an arc around the SUV at a surprising speed. When he opened up for questions, one of the attendees asked how long it had been since he shot in Santa Barbara. He thought for a minute before saying, “It’s been a while.”