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Cities see themselves in the movies
by Eric Lai
East Bay Business Times - September 23, 2005

As the founding film commissioner for Jacksonville, Fla., in the mid-1980s, Dale Kaye went the extra mile whenever Hollywood came calling.

She got the naval air station to divert its training flights and arranged for the public works department to clean up piles of reeking mashed potatoes.

"I learned to bend over backwards to unravel red tape," Kaye said.

Her tour de force was the time she arranged for the city to shut down its largest bridge so that 400 horses could be filmed running across it for two straight days. The steeds even bedded down overnight in the garage of a government building.

It paid off, as the studio behind that film brought three other films to Jacksonville, pumping millions of dollars into the economy each time. By the time Kaye left, the city was reaping $40 million a year from Hollywood productions, she says.

Now as commissioner of Livermore's film office, Kaye hopes to use her can-do attitude and insider connections to bring productions to her fast-growing city. After leaving Jacksonville, Kaye worked as a Hollywood executive. Her husband, Ted Kaye, is former chief of production at Touchstone Television, a division of Disney Corp.

But to lure directors here, Kaye will have to overcome Hollywood's increasing tendency to offshore its movie productions. She will also have the delicate job of simultaneously competing and cooperating with other East Bay film offices.

Oakland leads the way, with 190 days of shooting last year, and 125 so far this year. Other film offices include Berkeley, which has had 38 shooting days so far this year, the Solano County office in Vallejo, which has long lured productions to the hangars on the former Mare Island naval shipyard, and a Tri-Valley office run by the convention and visitors' bureau.

Major movies made in the East Bay this year include the musical "Rent," which, although set in New York City, was 90 percent filmed in the Bay Area, according to Scott Trimble, a Hollywood location scout. "The Pursuit of Happyness," starring Will Smith, also was filmed in Oakland this month.

Alameda now has a film office. Its city council unanimously voted on Sept. 20 to create a film office run out of its Development Services division.

Alameda already gets a share of productions, mostly spillover from films being shot primarily in San Francisco or Oakland. But the booming city wants more, and with its pretty Victorian homes and generically attractive South Shore beach, it thinks it can get more, said Sue Russell, an Alameda business development staffer who has shepherded the film office's creation after a suggestion by her boss, Dorene Soto.

"We're like a beautiful damsel that has been overlooked," Russell said.

She downplays the competition with Alameda's neighbors.
"Our feeling is that our sites are different enough so that there won't be any competition, only cooperation," said Russell.
That's because once film producers have committed to shooting some scenes in a certain city, they want to shoot other scenes nearby to minimize travel costs.

"If they're looking for a location like a prison, we'll send it to Dublin, or if it's a certain kind of downtown, we'll send them to Pleasanton," said Livermore's Kaye. "The big thing is to keep the production in California."

But incentives such as a cheaper exchange rate and tax rebates make Canada, New Zealand, Eastern Europe and South Africa very popular for Hollywood.

Although cost and look and feel remain paramount, a film office can do a lot to make its city more attractive, said Trimble, who scouted the Bay Area this year for Paramount Pictures' production of "Mission Impossible 3".

"The best film commissioners give us their personal cell phone numbers and don't mind if we call at all hours," said Trimble, a Bay Area native and UC-Berkeley graduate. "We often need responses, if not right away, in 24 hours or less."

The rewards can be great. Take "The Bee Season," a soon-to-open Richard Gere film that spent half of its $12 million budget while filming in Oakland, Alameda and other parts of the East Bay last year.

Ami Zins, Oakland's film office director, said cities typically reap $48,000 per day from filming in their town. The overall economic impact, from hotel rooms, restaurant meals, dry-cleaned costumes, etc., is about three times that.

Still, cities that do all the right things should not expect that every production crew that comes into town is filming a multi-million blockbuster.

Berkeley's Hillman, for instance, estimates that commercials, documentaries, even photo shoots, make up more than three-quarters of the requests made to her office. Trimble agrees. "We all spend money, and even a small film could help create tourism later," he said. Trimble was alluding to the success of the indie movie "Sideways," which has been a boon for tourism at the wineries around Santa Barbara where it was filmed - the kind of success Livermore's vintners would like to imitate.



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