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Filmmakers appear to love Oakland
City's economy gets nearly $4.1 million in 2002 from movies, commercials.

by Erin Breznikar
Oakland Tribune (August 19, 2002)

Weary cast and crew filming scenes for a Microsoft ad campaign rested under white tent canopies in the parking area of Auto Pro, Inc., replacing the vintage Mercedes that typically fill the lot.

With the film crew present, the business area near the intersection of Telegraph and Claremont avenues was more lively with a taste of Hollywood in their back yard, curious residents and business patrons said.

"The slight inconvenience of not being able to park in front (of my house) was outweighed by the thrill of seeing the commercial being filmed," said a nearby tenant.

No-parking signs, large trailers, heavy-duty tape, and between 50 and 100 crew darting in and out of equipment trucks, these are the telltale signs of film and commercial sets.

"Oakland is experiencing a surge in filming," said Oakland Film Office head Ami Zins. "Over the past two weeks, Microsoft, Yahoo and Lincoln Mercury (Ford) have taken over city streets, bridges and buildings for ad campaigns."

The city is making a name for itself and becoming a popular place to film projects, location managers and production supervisors said.

"Oakland and Alameda County are incredibly supportive of the film-making process," said Ellen Lent, a San Francisco-based production supervisor. "The industry is cyclical and we are always looking out for new hot spots. Oakland is getting a lot of attention."

When filming, Oakland can look like a typical American city or street, Lent said. Essentially, the city's varied geography and architecture can be made to look like somewhere else.

Some of the earliest movies filmed in Oakland date to the silent film "The Roman"(1908) and "The Sea Wolf" (1913), which featured Oakland native and author Jack London in a bit role.

According to the Oakland Film Office, 95 days of filming have taken place this year -- 62 projects total.

The statistics include still photography, documentaries, feature films, short subject, music videos, commercials, television programming and public service announcements.

Reaping the benefits are local merchants whose properties are being used.

Steve Pruitt, owner of the Kingfish Cafe and Pub on Claremont Avenue, was paid $3,000 by Microsoft for a half day of filming.

Parking was restricted on Claremont the day of the shoot, which is the case for most productions. The city requests signs be posted 72 hours in advance to alert residents and business owners.

The Oakland Film Office estimates the impact on the local economy is $43,000 for each day of filming.

"The figure is established by a study conducted by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America)," said Janet Austin of the Oakland Film Office. "We use the MPAA study since the information from the production company regarding economic impact is often considered confidential."

For 2002, the office estimates nearly $4.1 million has already been dropped into the pockets of local businesses and workers hired.

"This figure reflects the estimated amount productions spend per day in the local economy," said Zins. "Gas, food, materials, and lodging -- these types of expenditures."

Permit fees range from $150 per day for features and commercials to $1,000 for the projects shot inside City Hall. Productions are required to have filming and location permits, with these funds going into the city's general fund, said Zins.

The second and third Matrix movies were filmed at Manex Studios in Alameda, on the former Alameda Naval Air Station. Local unions estimate tens of millions of dollars were spent in the area during production, said Zins.

While San Francisco boasts of memorable vistas and recognizable scenery, location manager and filmmaker Wilson Wu said Oakland is a cheaper place for productions.

"In some regards I would say filming in Oakland is 50 percent cheaper than San Francisco," he said. "Residents are also more cooperative and the ones that are not, I explain that these projects help export an image of the city."

Local crews are often hired for the shoots, but depending on the number of days in Oakland, producers will bring in camera operators, production, and other staff from out of town.

The recent Yahoo commercial had 90 percent of its crew hired locally, while Microsoft brought most of the nearly 70 crew from elsewhere.

"With more productions using local crews, some film makers are being drawn back to the area," said Wu. "But the slow economy has forced many in the industry to leave Oakland, heading for other areas with more projects."

The Oakland film office can be reached at 238-4734.

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