Film commission committed to bringing more film, TV, video to Nevada County |

Film commission committed to bringing more film, TV, video to Nevada County

S.A. “Sam” Jernigan
Submitted to The Union

Film office facts at-a-glance:

• There are 60+ film offices in California, and Nevada County has been one of the few regions not previously participating in this lucrative sector. “Film productions tend to be an economic powerhouse. The industry represents about $30 billion annually for the state.” (per Sacramento Business Journal, 8-10-2012)

• 80% of projects are filmed on-location. These include feature-length films as well as TV commercials, shows, specials, made-for-TV movies, as well as commercial photography including catalogue and fashion shoots, educational and training videos, etc. The newly exploding category of made-for-online programming (e.g. Netflix’s Emmy-nominated “House of Cards”) is also generating increased demand for filmed content as Amazon, Microsoft, and other tech giants now move into this newly-emerging space (per Forbes “What Netflix’s House of Cards Means For the Future of TV,” 3-4-2013).

• There are two primary types of “film offices” – government-sponsored or nonprofit. Other nonprofit film offices have been operating in CA as well as elsewhere in the U.S. and serve to “relieve the burden of government” in providing this specialized economic development for the jurisdictions they represent. 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 $5M there. 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.

• This unique population of visiting production companies spend much differently in their host community than do consumer tourists, thus our nicknaming this economic sector “commercial tourism.” So in addition to staying at hotels (the recent Land Rover commercial filmed in Truckee generated 180 room nights), they hire caterers, rent vehicles, generators, and other equipment, frequent hardware and lumber stores, use sign companies, florists, dry cleaners, specialty retailers, purchase gas, etc. In fact, the entire cast’s wardrobe for The Christmas Card was purchased in Grass Valley.

• When viable, local technical crew may be hired by a visiting production company. So while “the talent” (e.g. actors) is rarely hired on-location, additional short-term employment is also possible for those serving as “extras” for a production. And the afore-referenced “location fees” are paid to property owners, usually ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars per day.

• A primary goal of a film office is to serve as liaison between the host community and the visiting production company in proactively addressing the interests of each, and serving as a central point of contact during the project.

• Although operating outside the public eye, film offices have been in existence for decades and always represent very specific geography. Here in California, the majority of film offices are organized by individual counties and film offices are also located in virtually every major metro area in the U.S. plus globally. States also have their own film offices, as do most countries, both large and small. A film office facilitates the specialized needs of production companies and location scouts/managers, and the services provided to them are always free of charge.

— Sam Jernigan

Things have been busy at the Northeast California Counties Film Commission, and some results of our efforts were on display when the Holbrooke Hotel was featured in an hour-long episode of Hotel Impossible which aired Sept. 16 (Travel Channel).

The resulting direct spend by the NYC-based production crew was $26,000 during their week-long stay, hopefully just the beginning of revenue generated from this particular filming project as the episode will re-air multiple times straightaway and continue to rotate on the Travel Channel’s schedule, likely for years to come.

Given our tourism orientation locally, Hotel Impossible viewers are the ideal audience to introduce to Grass Valley.

For approximately six weeks, our film office worked closely with the show’s producer in supplying an array of support, primarily pre-filming but also including some wrap-up details after the shoot. This initial filming project also provided some key insights for the Film Commission.

For example, the lack of a film permit in Grass Valley nearly derailed the production as associate producer, Teresa Palaia, told me during a phone conversation, “We’ve never filmed anywhere without a film permit!” So we intervened with the Public Works Department, which helpfully provided a workaround at the time. It turns out that rather than being perceived as “charmingly small town” not to impose this bureaucratic permit requirement, it’s actually a barrier to filming when a jurisdiction can’t provide a visiting production company documentation authorizing their permission to work in a specific locale.

Following this discovery in Grass Valley, it subsequently turned out there were similarly no film permits available anywhere within our designated four-county region (Butte, Nevada, Plumas & Sierra) other than the one here in Nevada County — but it’s only used for filming in unincorporated areas. So our next step was to obtain a sample film permit and film ordinance from the California Film Commission which our office then widely routed to the other three counties as well as the incorporated cities therein, and this information was well received by our governmental contacts.

So while promising production outreach was made early-on following our appointment by the Board of Supervisors to officially represent Nevada County, this discovery caused us to temporarily pause those formative business development efforts inside the entertainment industry. This process of adopting permits/ordinances is still underway throughout the region and our focus is now on ensuring we create not only a film-friendly, but also a production-ready filming environment, and concurrently we’ve been diligently working on this sizable task of establishing.

We’re fortunate to have two seasoned filmmakers actively participating on our Advisory Board: Lincoln Lageson, producer of The Christmas Card (Hallmark, Larry Levinson Productions) filmed here in 2005, and Deborah Moore, former Executive VP of New Line Cinema, now heading her own production company, IPE Films. They each indicated that zero-cost-per-day film permits would be a significant enticement for production companies – in fact, Ms. Moore said, “Oh, that’s a big deal!” when I told her Nevada County’s film permit was available at no charge.

This permit does however stipulate the county be added as an additional insured on the production company’s $1 million liability insurance policy – an invaluable asset to the issuing jurisdiction, and an industry standard component. So it turns out a film permit is simply good business for both parties (and encroachment permits are already widely in use). And we’re strongly advocating zero-cost-per-day film permits be adopted throughout our 4-county region.

Ms. Moore’s 5-plus weeks of filming last year in Seattle resulted in a direct spend there of $1.9 million. That feature production starring Kim Basinger also included hiring some local crew. When technical personnel with industry credentials are available in a region, this represents yet another population who benefit from this often lucrative “commercial tourism” as this saves the production company the cost of otherwise transporting/housing production assistants, grips, makeup artists, and other professionals.

After generating an estimated $2 millon into the local economy during seven weeks of filming here, The Christmas Card has also spawned ongoing tourism as reported by Nevada City Chamber’s CEO, Cathy Whittlesey, who regularly fields requests by visitors arriving in her office asking for the locations of the church, diner, and bridge featured in the movie. Lucky for us, the film incorporates mention of “Nevada City” and “Grass Valley” multiple times in the script and re-airs annually, a dozen times this last holiday season alone. In a 2012 Facebook poll, The Christmas Card was crowned the Hallmark Channel’s Favorite Original Holiday Movie of All-Time garnering nearly one million votes by fans (much to Mr. Lageson’s delight; ours too!).

Within the past two weeks, the film office has facilitated filming of a music video in Nevada City on private property, which generated an $800 “location fee” for the property owner. While the music video was a low budget one-day shoot, a Land Rover commercial filmed in Truckee earlier that same week delivered a whopping $40,000 of revenue locally given the sizable 60-person crew along with some local hiring of technical personnel.

Having worked with the producers for a number of weeks, we’ve recently received their thumbs-up indicating an episode of a new food/travel TV show, The California Table, will be filming here in the near future. The production team has impressive industry as well as culinary/travel journalism credentials and the trailer they’ve created for the show demonstrates high caliber production values, so this should be another boon for our area’s tourism once it airs. This economic development scenario of “location filming” is delivering a classic win-win, and these three productions have already generated direct spends totaling $71,700 in Nevada County this year.

A recent synopsis of the commission’s production development activities can be downloaded at:

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