Christopher Rosacker

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September 10, 2013
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Film proponent lobbies for regional industry office

More film crews could use Nevada County as a backdrop for movies and television shows if Sam Jernigan gets her way.

For nearly two years, Jernigan has sowed the seeds of a regional film commission to represent Nevada, Plumas, Sierra and Butte counties that she argues will attract more camera crews to those areas.

“By bundling our four counties together you have this broader range,” Jernigan said. “It is all about geography and money.”

A film commission would solicit film crews to the four counties by lauding their offerings and sceneries, that each county can’t fund on its own, Jernigan said. A commission could also facilitate pre-production activities such securing government permits and organize local crew members, which Jernigan said would save a film company from the cost of sending their own people.

“When you don’t have you a film office, it is just this well intentioned free for all,” Jernigan said. “And when you are the producer, it gets really confusing. It is not as straight forward or as productive. They are looking for that infrastructure in order to consider an area.”

Already, some of the fruits of her labor have ripened. On Monday, the Travel Channel is expected to air an episode of the reality make-over show “Hotel Impossible” featuring Grass Valley’s the Holbrooke Hotel, which Jernigan said she helped facilitate.

During the New York-based production crew’s week-long stay to film at the Holbrooke, Jernigan estimated they spent $26,000 which she hopes will be “just the beginning of revenue generated from this particular filming project.”

Nevada City also has hosted two recent music video filmings. Over the Labor Day weekend, the Phoenix, Ariz.-based band Lost In Atlantis filmed a video at Bill Lichtfield’s properties, according to Producer Stefan Anderson. The one-day shoot at locations that included the HEW Building was a zombie-themed film featuring about 25 locals as extras alongside as many people in the band, their friends and the crew, Anderson said.

In late late-August, the Seattle-based band The Head and the Heart’s filmed the video for their song “Shake” at the Nevada City Classic Cafe, according to Nevada County-born Marcus McDougald, the video’s director who is based in Los Angeles.

“Our target audience is LA-based production companies,” Jernigan said, noting that a one-hour plane ride to Sacramento and the hour-plus drive to Nevada County can can be more appealing than the cost of sending an entire film operation to a far-flung location.

With four season climates and everything from rural farmland to snow-capped mountains, the area can stand-in for areas around the country, she said.

“We have this amazing combination of natural beauty and all these historical treasures as well,” Jernigan said

As an industry, film represents a $30 billion annual of California’s economy, according to a 2012 Sacramento Business Journal article, with 80 percent of projects filmed on-location.

The film sector of California’s economy encompasses everything from blockbuster-budgeted feature-length films to educational and training videos. In between those vastly-different filimings are TV commercials, shows, specials, made-for-TV movies, as well as commercial photography including catalogue and fashion shoots, Jernigan said.

““The revenue generated can be very exponential depending on the size of the budget,” Jernigan said.

There are more than 60 film offices in California, with no shortage in the north part of the state, which Jernigan noted fall into two categories: government-sponsored and nonprofit.

The nonprofit Humboldt County Film Commission, which includes neighboring Del Norte County, hosted the filming this past year of the Will Smith movie, “After Earth,” a sizable production that resulted in a direct spend of $5 million there, Jernigan noted. The nonprofit 11-county Wilmington Film Commission in North Carolina has been dubbed “Hollywood East” and filming has become a significant sector of the local economy given their development of a sizable production facility, including industry professionals now residing in the area, leading to year ‘round filming of TV and film projects there.

Perhaps Nevada County’s most notable filming was the 2006 Hallmark Channel made-for-TV movie “The Christmas Card” which plays every holiday season and continues to draw tourists to the town, according to Cathy Whittlesey, executive manager of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce.

“Probably the most important thing that’s been done in the last 20 years was the filming of the Hallmark movie,” said Kirk Valentine, owner of the Nevada City Classic Cafe where he said one of the film’s pivotal dramatic scenes was filmed.

“We have people come in every week who say they are here because of the film,” Valentine told The Union during the music video shoot. “It’s mind blowing the impact that film had.”

But the film commission is not without its hurdles. Jernigan is requesting funds from all the county and municipal governments when many of them are just starting to come up for air from the economic downturn.

“It really is a question of priorities of our money, and we’re really sensitive about that,” said Nevada City Mayor Sally Harris at an Aug. 14 meeting where the town’s leaders echoed their financial reservations while touting the merits of the film commission concept.

While Jernigan aims for long-term support from county and governments, a short-term goal is prompt those agencies to create film permits. Currently, only Nevada County has a film permit for crews working in unincorporated areas, but neither Grass Valley nor Nevada City do, and neither do Butte, Plumas and Sierra counties.

The lack of a film permit in Grass Valley nearly derailed the production of Hotel Impossible’s filming, Jernigan said.

“The production looked as that as a negative,” Jernigan said, noting the potential headaches a film crew can avoid by having a permit. “They want a peace of paper that says they are authorized to work there, otherwise it creates such a vulnerability from their standpoint.”

Without a film permit, Jernigan said the county could lose film opportunities. The county’s zero-cost film permit is appealing compared to some towns that charge hundreds of dollars per day and should be the template for other area permits, Jernigan said.

“Because it gives us an advantage,” Jernigan said. “When you can save that much per day, it may not seem like all that much, but for this film companies it is all about the numbers.”

Jernigan expects to appeal to the Grass Valley City Council in October for funds. But all the agencies will need to chip in, because they can’t do it alone.

“A part-time film office is one step up from useless,” Jernigan said. “Its not a nine-to-five industry. The industry doesn’t work like that, so you have to be full time and it isn’t possible for our little, rural counties to do that.”

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call (530) 477-4236.

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The Union Updated Sep 12, 2013 04:08PM Published Sep 12, 2013 09:20AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.