Everyone knows the sunny County of Santa Barbara has a sundry list of economic woes. To right the deficit, budget cuts have and continue to be proposed in many areas, with a new round coming next week. It’s a tough balancing act, and no fiscal strategy can leave everybody satisfied.
Geoff Alexander, the county’s film commissioner, recognizes this. But he also believes that cutting the budget of the Film Commission is a bad solution, a move that will hurt Santa Barbara’s economic recovery more than help it.
If you were one of the 9.2 million viewers who saw the 20th series premiere of The Amazing Race, which took place at Bridlewood Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley, then you’ve already and literally seen the kind of impact that the commission can have on making Santa Barbara County appear appealing and attractive. That is the commission’s very purpose, for the on-screen allure is what’s supposed to bring revenue to the county from afar, which is exactly the argument that Alexander is bringing to the Board of Supervisors.
“With Adweek reporting the average cost of a 30-second spot on CBS at $113,842, this one production netted a total media impact worth approximately $796,894,” explains the website of the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission. “This production brought immense and immediate benefit to our region, which we would never be able to pay for.”
Yet the elimination of the Film Commission — whose county funding has already been cut by two-thirds over the past three years — remains a real possibility, which Alexander “doesn’t understand.” It is illogical, he said, “to dismantle the only economic development activity that the county participates in, particularly when county supervisors have stated that the economic development in the region is a priority.”
Though potentially disastrous budget hearings are next week, the Film Commission continues to pursue projects. Just this month, for example, the Film Commission assisted production in the new romance reality show Ready for Love, produced by actress Eva Longoria and featuring the waterfront, the beach, the Douglas Family Preserve, Cold Spring Tavern, and homegrown rock star Tim Lopez of Plain White T’s. “There is a link between this kind of programming and people making travel plans to that location,” said Alexander, who argues that the county couldn’t ever afford this sort of advertising, yet the commission makes it cheap.
“It’s impossible to know our exact impact in media exposure,” said Alexander. “However, if the Film Commission ceased to exist tomorrow, this sort of high-exposure production would drop. There’s no doubt about it.”
Assisting production companies is a critical part of the commission’s work, said Alexander, because they choose locations based on an area’s ”reputation for helping with planning, with permits, with logistical needs, and dealing with the unexpected.” Without the Film Commission, Alexander believes that production companies would see Santa Barbara as less attractive.
According to the Film Commission’s figures, last year, production companies spent $12.8 million in the area, which reportedly has an overall impact of $30 million. Explained Alexander, “Film crews pay for thousands of hotel room nights during the times when the industry most needs them — off-season and mid-week — generating over $100,000 in transient occupancy taxes, thus returning an immediate fourfold return on the county’s investment of $25,000 in the Film Commission.”
Whether the supervisors will continue to devote money that Alexander says is very well spent may be determined as soon as next week.