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Oakland Film Center an incubator
By John W. Ellis IV
East Bay Business Times, (December 20, 2004)

The Oakland Film Center, not yet a year old, is attracting permanent business residents from around te Bay and video productions from around the nation. Oakland established the center in May in a warehouse on the former U.S. Army Base and filled the 100,000-square-foot space within a month with only word-of-mouth advertising.

The center houses 22 film-related businesses under a single roof. Transportation, communication, props, mobile offices, lighting and camera companies all share a space. And it has five businesses on its waiting list.

“We became aware that a number of owner-operated film businesses were getting rent increases they couldn’t afford”, says Ami Zins, liaison at the Oakland Film Office. “With support of the city and the Port of Oakland, we opened a film center that gives us a big advantage when production teams are evaluating cities.”

Benefits include low rent on the vacant base, enterprise zone tax credits, cross-pollination of business, and the opportunity to share experiences. The center’s location at the foot of the Bay Bridge where interstates 80, 580 and 980 merge and near Oakland’s airport attracts local businesses and production crews from out of town.

“Having a thing called the Oakland Film Center has gotten a lot of attention in the industry,” Zins says. “People are interested in one-stop shopping, but it also has a certain cachet.”

Zins hopes to permanently draw together small and midsize companies that are now scattered throughout the Bay Area.

“I would like to see a facility built, but on a much larger scale, that would be a permanent home. My dream is that this would end up a public and private partnership,” Zins says. “We also want to have a sound stage with editing capability.”

Zins says that an East Bay production company with capital in hand is looking for a location to build such a facility. Separately, an actor with his own production company – Zins would not identify the actor – has put Oakland on the short list of cities where he might build a production facility.

“Because Oakland is not as well visually identified, it is an easy city to use for filming,” Zins says. “The movie ‘Rent’ is filming here, but it takes place in New York.”

Oakland’s famous lack of identity may soon change, at least on the big screen. The directors of the “Bee Season”, a film starring Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche, to be released in 2005, dropped Pittsburgh as the setting for Myla Goldberg’s award-winning novel, Zins says.

After filming began, the directors were so impressed with Oakland – many of the film center’s businesses worked on the production – they rewrote the settings and locations in the script to infuse Oakland’s flavor and diversity.

Still concerned that audiences might not immediately identify, Zins says, the directors spent $25,000 to shoot a new opening sequence. The scene is an aerial shot of the Bay Area that concludes with workers installing a 14-foot-high “Port of Oakland” sign.

The sign was dismantled after shooting.

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