Here we go again.
On the heels of some parliamentary wizardry that killed the latest tax credit package for “film production,” the Chronicle, right on cue, had had a front page article bemoaning the “loss” of film productions in town. Predictably, it talked solely about “tax credits” being offered by various local and national governments, and how SF is “missing the boat” because we’re just not offering up enough gimmies to Hollywood.
The problem with the article is that it narrowly defines the “whys” of the lack of film production in San Francisco without considering some very important facts that are important to any film producer, large or small, who wishes to film anywhere on location ( like the fact that previous San Francisco tax credits haven’t worked out at all like promised.) Yet nowhere in the Chronicle story is this noted, despite the fact this isn’t a state secret.
I’ve written about this issue before because like many of us, enjoy seeing Our Fair City in TV and movies. Bullitt and the first Dirty Harry movies remain some of my all time favorites, along with Vertigo, to name a few.
Having worked on a documentary about the Screen Actor’s Guild, I’ve had a lot of time to study the issue of film production here and abroad, and have had a chance to talk to a lot of people in the industry and in the unions who have studied this issue for literally decades.
So let’s do a little disinfo rehab on the subject and see what we get:
First, it’s important to remember that a tremendous amount of film credits in Canada cited in the Chronicle are given to film productions that are primarily created by Canadians to defend and enhance Canadian culture and “Canadiana” (yes that’s a word). Thus, to compare any incentive program offered up by a budget-challenged small city to that of the Mighty Canadian Govenrment Protecting Canada’s Culture is comparing apple and oranges.
It’s also important, up until the dollar’s recent decline, the weak Canadian Dollar made filming very cheap, which was the initial appeal for filming in the Great White North. (Ever wonder why so many Sci-Fi channel movies and TV shows look the same? Vancouver!) Don’t discount the additional appeal of doing your work in a nation whose cities look like America, but aren’t beset by violent crime and filth, either.
Also, as I’ve tried to tell the chess club brains at City Hall, filming in San Francisco is expensive for reasons you can’t give a tax break for. Crews are going to cost more, because rent and taxes here are extremely high. Neighborhood folks, well established in the siren whine of Today’s City, will complain about the inconvenience of a long film production, “jobs” be damned. Crime is out of control in San Francisco – we don’t even prosecute murderers here, much less property theft. Anyone wanna risk having their brand new movie camera stolen in SF? I doubt it.
And most importantly, we simply do not have the sound stages and related facilities that Los Angeles and its environs enjoy. That alone is going to make it much more feasible to come in to town for a week of exterior shots, then shuffle off to Vancouver or LA to finish the job.
All important topics worthy of coverage by policy folk and media folk. There’s plenty of more creative solutions to enhance our economy with jobs and investment from the film industry others have proposed.
The problem is, no one at City Hall or at the Chronicle gives a damn about any of that.
The “discussion” of this “issue” is not really about getting more good paying jobs into San Francisco in the film industry at all. If it were, we’d have our chess-club braniacs coming up with something innovative.
Instead, it’s about name-calling the Board of Supervisors, and reinforcing negative views of San Francisco by outsiders and special interests to advance an agenda. It’s no coincidence the same Supervisor allied with the rich and powerful, and never misses a chance to rail on her Board colleagues is the one pushing this bill, despite all the problems with it.
Plus, it wouldn’t be SF without the Politics of Emotion, where politicians talk about something we all agree on (good paying jobs, rainbows, puppies, etc.). Big statements are made, constituent groups lined up, and the press jumps in and feeds the emotional frenzy with “quote of the day” coverage.
Inevitably, a piece of political junk mail gets made at election time to calm the masses. The problem with the Politics of Emotion, SF Style, however is that in the end, nothing ever really gets done.
The politicians go home to big paychecks, big pensions, and big job promotions, all at our expense, completely divorced from reality. Heads shake at “how tough” and “unsolvable” all our problems are, and year after year, we are told to pay more and get less from our city government. This, despite the fact that plenty of other cities have found ways to solve these problems, or at least not do as poorly as Allegedly Smart San Franciscans.
The rest of us continue to live in a city that can’t figure out basics like fighting violent crime, decent public transit, and a budget that works. Which, quite frankly, is what we deserve if we’re not willing to tell the mainstream (and alt-weekly) press and their cohorts in power at City Hall that they’re not doing their jobs, and that there are consequences for failure.
Until that happens, nothing changes. After all, why should it?