Francine Filsinger likes to tell the story of “Full Out,” a TV movie based on the life of a San Diego gymnast who made an impressive comeback after suffering major injuries in a car crash.
The film was funded here, and the filmmakers spent a day and a half shooting B-roll of San Diego. But the rest of it was produced in Toronto, Canada.
“That’s the perfect example of investor money coming from San Diego and going straight to another community, in part, because we don’t have a film office,” said Filsinger, president of the advocacy and education nonprofit San Diego Filmmakers.
San Diego’s Film Commission closed in 2013 when it unexpectedly lost its funding from the Tourism Authority. Since then, local industry pros have been pushing for its resurrection. It had previously been credited with attracting spending and film-industry jobs during its three-decade tenure.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced last year his plans to recreate a regional film office. He earmarked $225,000 in the budget to help pay for it. County Supervisor Dave Roberts has also said the film commission needs a reboot, and he’s pledged $125,000 in grant money to make it happen. Faulconer and Roberts’ offices together funded a soon-to-be-released study looking at the economic impact of film on the region. The Port of San Diego is on board, too.
The Film Commission used to market San Diego as a good place to shoot a movie or commercial, plus it streamlined permitting for production companies and basically held production companies’ hands through bureaucratic hurdles. It also helped producers out if they needed police officers, firefighters or other city services.
But Roberts said the city and county aren’t simply reviving the old Film Commission.
“What we are doing is building the film industry in San Diego County and we are doing that together – the city and county – and we are doing it smartly and methodically,” he said.
The city and county this fall asked film folks what type of organization the industry needed. Over a dozen groups responded with ideas.
After an April 7 City Council committee meeting, the city and county will officially request proposals from groups that want to serve as the new San Diego Regional Film Office. Since the organization will only receive public funds for a few years, organizations need to describe how they’ll become self-sustaining.
“The city and county have each agreed,” Roberts said. “We would get this started and then take a look at it in three years and ask, ‘Is it doing what we were hoping it was going to do?’”
Meanwhile, the city in December hired Brandy Shimabukuro as its filming program manager. She said she’s modernizing the city’s communication with the film industry to market San Diego as a film and TV location.
Before she even got her official city email address, Shimabukuro entered San Diego in an online film location-scouting website. She’s filling up a photo gallery with images of San Diego’s grittier side, not just the usual shots of beaches and Balboa Park. She’s also building a production directory that allows people to upload resumes so production companies can find a local crew.
“Once upon a time, film commissions back in the day would put together this,” she said, showing me a large manila folder with printed photos of various shot locations taped inside. “This was actually given to us by a film commission. They would commit hours of staff time putting together hard copy photos like this. … But we don’t need to spend all that time putting this together anymore. This is all hosted online now, obviously.”
Shimabukuro, who’ll work closely with new San Diego Regional Film Office, said she’s been surprised at the amount of filming still going on in San Diego despite the lack of a film office for the last few years. The number of days of filming on city property, she said, was not too far off from when the film commission was in full swing.
Roberts, however, said the local film scene has been dismal since the office closed three years ago.
“It basically ended as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Production companies just don’t have the things they need here in San Diego County.”
But that’s not exactly true.
“The film industry has not completely died off,” Shimabukuro said. “San Diego actually hosts quite a bit of reality TV.”
Roberts acknowledged that the number of film shoots in San Diego hasn’t fallen off that dramatically, but said the new effort should be focused on the bigger film features and television series that have dropped off. He said San Diego is ready for its next “Top Gun,” which was partially filmed here in 1986.
Roberts was coy about a “major feature film” that’s seriously considering San Diego as the location to shoot its sequel. He also mentioned “Pitch,” a pilot for a drama about major league baseball’s first female pitcher that’s currently being shot at Petco Park.
All the film action begs the question: How badly is a film office really needed?
Roberts said he’s confident the early efforts by the city and county to bring the film industry back is part of what attracted those productions to consider San Diego at all.
“I don’t want to necessarily take credit for it but we are working at the highest levels of local government to bring the spotlight back to San Diego and the film industry is hearing about that,” he said.
Filsinger, whose organization has hosted town hall meetings about what the new film commission should look like and has worked closely with both the mayor’s office and Roberts on the reboot, agrees San Diego should be shooting for more of those bigger productions, but she said the film office is only one piece of the puzzle.
Filsinger wants San Diego to subsidize movie and commercial filming so the city can compete with places like Toronto, which has offered so many film subsidies it’s earned the nickname “Hollywood North.”
“The film office is just half the package,” said Filsinger. “The economic incentives are still the big, missing piece.”
Roberts and Shimabukuro also want to use subsidies to lure in more productions.
“I’m just three and a half months in,” Shimabukuro said. “But I will be tackling these things.”