Second act for film commission? Encinitas arts commissioner, county supervisor seek green light for agency

Political+and+industry+leaders+are+working+toward+the+return+of+a+film+commission+for+San+Diego.+%28North+Coast+Current+photo+illustration%29

North Coast Current photo illustration

Political and industry leaders are working toward the return of a film commission for San Diego. (North Coast Current photo illustration)

Debbie L. Sklar

What do “Top Gun,” the hit television series “Simon & Simon,” and other such high-profile projects as “Traffic,” “Almost Famous,” “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” “Lords of Dogtown,” “Bring It On,” “Veronica Mars” and “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” all have in common?

They were filmed in various parts of San Diego and overseen by the now defunct San Diego Film Commission, which closed up shop in 2013.

However, if a handful of people have anything to do with it, there just might be a new San Diego Film Commission soon.

Like who? Well, to start, San Diego County Supervisor and former Solana Beach City Councilman Dave Roberts and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer have been expressing interest in reinstating a film commission for quite some time.

Many say it will be good for the city’s economy and so much more.

Mayor is in

faulconer-kevin-2014“First and foremost, I want to tell the world that San Diego is open for business. The film industry can help attract and create quality jobs for San Diego,” Faulconer said. “Sure, the film industry in San Diego means more actors and acting jobs, but it also means writing jobs, legal jobs, engineering jobs and many other technical jobs, and opportunities for San Diego families and workers.”

He’s not the only one. Many filmmakers are also in support of bringing a commission back.

Filmmaker welcomes new commission

Francine Filsinger — an Encinitas city arts commissioner who also serves on the board of directors of San Diego Filmmakers, the largest organization of professional filmmakers in San Diego — said she would welcome a new film commission.

“The production community struggles to produce despite overwhelming odds. We produce mostly commercials and other media products with a few indie filmmakers struggling to create feature films,” she said.

With the dissolution of the San Diego Film Commission in the summer of 2013, the efforts have been difficult. Since there is no organized infrastructure supporting the film industry, the pool of interested production companies has dried up as well, Filsinger said.

filsinger-francine-2014“The film commission eventually died a slow death due to budget cuts over the past few years. It was eventually moved to the Tourism Authority to keep it alive but its remaining three-member staff was laid off in the summer of 2013 due to further budget cuts and a 40 percent reduction in the TA staff,” she said.

An actor herself, Filsinger has a vested interested in the return of a commission, and even though it disbanded, she is still active in the industry.

“I am also a member of the Amalgamated Grommets. We are a group of independent filmmakers who participate in the 48 Hour Film Project competition and other commercial enterprises,” she continued. “We won three of the last five SD competitions and won the L.A. 48 Hour competition last year. Our short film ‘Coverage’ went on to be selected as one of the top 10 48 Hour films internationally and was only one of two U.S. 48 Hour films selected to screen at the Festival de Cannes (Cannes Film Festival),” Filsinger said.

Tough market

In addition, as an executive board member of the San Diego Filmmakers, Filsinger interfaces on a regular basis with local production companies, crew, talent and suppliers to the filmmaking community.

“I regularly hear the daily challenges of trying to survive in a very difficult environment from a large cross section of experiences,” she said. “The San Diego Film Commission was once a vibrant entity that brought strong revenue and jobs to the county of San Diego. It was so successful, it was actually used as a model for many other film commissions.”

Back history

The San Diego Film Commission was created in 1976 by San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson. During its heyday, the San Diego Film Commission was a one-stop location that issued filming permits, and aggressively promoted San Diego to national and international production companies and local businesses. It facilitated the permitting process, found film locations, crews, talent, equipment suppliers, logistical support of a wide variety including lodging, food, and a whole array of needs while acting as a liaison between municipalities, the production company and the community, Filsinger explained.

“A strong filmmaking industry benefits the community at large. It cuts across a wide swath of industries and businesses, creating jobs and economic opportunity on a number of levels. It is a game-changing industry that has significant growth potential capturing hard dollars and reinvesting them back into local communities,” she said.

Additionally, she added, San Diego enjoys a strong, natural competitive edge over other production locations.

“We offer production companies the luxury of very temperate weather, which creates a consistent and predictable shooting schedule. We have unparalleled diversity of shooting locations: cities, beaches, oceans, mountains, deserts, bays, urban/suburban settings, military installations, an international boarder and more … all in one location.,” Filsinger noted. “We are easily accessed from an international airport with close proximity to L.A. We have an outstanding talent pool of internationally recognized and award-winning professionals. All we lack is the infrastructure to capitalize on it.”

In short, she said, San Diego needs a well-funded, fully staffed and functioning film commission.

“There is absolutely no reason why San Diego cannot and should not be a premier center of the filmmaking industry. To have so much and yet live with so little is unconscionable,” she said.

More involvement

John Weil, chief of staff for Supervisor Dave Roberts, acknowledged that Roberts and San Diego Mayor Faulconer are indeed partnering to bring back a film commission.

They directed Weil and mayor’s aide Kristin Tillquist, director of State Government Affairs and Innovation Policy, to meet with local film industry members (a group of 24 people) to solicit their input as to the makeup, goals and purpose of a film commission. That input was extremely helpful, Weil said.

Roberts and the mayor will soon meet with tourism, economic development and chamber of commerce leaders to further solicit input on the issue.

roberts-dave-2014“The supervisor is very interested in creating a film commission to assist in growing the local film industry and assist filmmakers from outside the county to make movies and commercials in San Diego County,” Weil said. “He also hopes to assist student filmmakers to learn their craft and begin filming locally.

“The supervisor is involved because he believes strongly in filmmaking as an important art form,” he continued. “He wants to assist our local economy by creating jobs, increase filmmaker and tourist spending, and raise the profile of San Diego County in films.”

Bottom-line: “In addition to growing our economy, a film commission can do a lot for our city,” San Diego Mayor Faulconer said. “It’s the Gaslamp on the silver screen, it’s product placement for our beaches and bays, and it’s free advertising for the rich fusion of Asian and Latino cultures that flourish in San Diego. A stronger film industry and presence will not just record the San Diego experience, it will showcase it to the world.”

Debbie L. Sklar is a freelance writer in the region