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San Diego drops plan to add prod’n fees

HOLLYWOOD — San Diego’s city council unanimously defeated a proposal that threatened to turn the city’s film-friendly environment into hostile territory.

Budget cuts prompted the city manager’s office to recommend a $450-per-day use fee for filming on all city public property and an increase in the cost of police and fire services. The rationale: Other cities do it, so let’s do it — and let productions recoup their expenditures through the state’s Film California First Program (also in fiscal jeopardy), which reimburses qualified production companies up to $300,000 per production for eligible costs.

San Diego currently boasts fee-free filming incentives that include free use of public property, no permit fees, no charge for street closures, discounted police and fire fees, fire personnel required only under special circumstances, discounted hotel room rates and free prime locations for filming including Mission Bay Park, Balboa Park and the Gaslamp Quarter, as well as city beaches and parks.

Unanimous decision

On June 10, the city council, in a 9-0 decision, voted down the proposed hike. More than 250 local production professionals, including business owners, set dressers, casting agents and camera operators, jammed the chamber to voice their opposition to the measure. Some carried signs with messages such as “Filmmakers against fees” and “Keep my job in SD,” fearing that, like other cities losing production to incentivized points outside the U.S. as a result of such measures, San Diego would become a ghost town of productions past.

Mayor Dick Murphy, studio execs, producers and location managers also came out against the proposal. Some council members said they had not seen such an outpouring on any issue since taking office.

A final vote was taken June 23, with the same unanimous result. The Film Commission will work with city staff to develop a policy formalizing the city’s “film-friendly” atmosphere and return to the council within six months. Pics that have partially lensed in the city include “Bruce Almighty,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” “Antwone Fisher” and “The Scorpion King,” as well as the upcoming FX cabler “Nip & Tuck.”

Revenue for fiscal year 2002 registered $52.1 million from approximately 320 film, TV, video and print productions; and more than $42 million to date in fiscal 2003.

* * *

New Jersey wants to become Hollywood East for indie filmmakers. By a 37-1 vote, legislation passed in the state senate last week approving a Film Production Assistance Program. Sponsored by Sen. Joseph Vitale (D) and co-sponsored by Sen. Peter Inverso (R) and Sen. Shirley Turner (D), the bill provides loans for 30% of a film’s budget, up to $1.5 million, guaranteed by the state’s Economic Development Authority. The bill now awaits the signature of Gov. James E. McGreevey.

Comerica, an entertainment financing bank, has agreed to work in conjunction with New Jersey’s EDA to facilitate the program.

“In order to compete with Canada’s film incentives and keep jobs in the U.S., states must become creative within their ways of luring filmmakers to their towns. New Jersey’s Film Assistance Production Program is an economic development model for the nation to follow,” said Tom Colitsas, CEO of CSC Communications, a New Jersey-based production/finance company. He hopes the program will make New Jersey competitive with states such as North Carolina and New York.

Bizzers on board

The Film Production Assistance Program also has the support of thesps such as Paul Sorvino, who lobbied on the floor of the New Jersey Senate chamber for incentives to bring production to his home state. Valerie Harper, Billy Baldwin, Al Sapienza, Leo Rossi, James Gandolfini, Jason Alexander and Joe Pantolianio, co-prez of the Creative Coalition, have signed on as well, eager to increase film production in their home state.

Groundswell for the bill was initiated by a local business with a grass-roots petition with more than 10,000 signatures asking lawmakers to bring Hollywood to the Garden State, which led to a rally held on the state house steps by local residents.

Gov. McGreevey, a Democrat, last month saved the state’s Motion Picture & Television Commission’s funding from being slashed by arts budget cuts.

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