by Christine Autrand Mitchell
Who doesn’t love film, right? Popcorn, overpriced candy and a giant soda piled in your lap as the lights go out, the previews begin and you can escape your everyday life into a fully conceived world. Don’t forget wiping your buttery hands into your husband’s jeans. But did you know there is a film industry in the Central Valley?
In 2007, when Mayor Ashley Swearengin was still part of the Regional Job Initiative, she spoke at the first Fresno Filmmakers Forum, dedicated to bringing local filmmakers together, and declared film an official industry. There are many groups fostering the film and video industry, from education, like CSU Fresno, Fresno City College, Fresno Pacific to CART and other regional high schools with video departments, and local production companies actively working in film, TV and industrial projects. We mustn’t forget local television stations, advertising and marketing agencies. We have several film festivals in the area like Fresno Filmworks every April, Reel Pride every September, Swede Fest and the Rogue Festival, just to name a few.
The Fresno Filmmakers Alliance, for instance, is an organization on the verge of non-profit status to expand its annual conferences, its workshops, and it hopes of building a production studio in Fresno to lure more productions into town. It has an education outreach program and it hosts monthly mixers to bring those in film and video together. It currently has over 300 members. There are video clubs at Fresno State, the B Sharp club, as well as others at local schools. There is a definite interest in the area.
Though Fresno County has had Film Commissioners, Gigi Gibbs and Associate Kristy Johnson, Ray Arthur was appointed Film and Entertainment Commissioner in 2007. It was the same year the Fresno Filmmakers Forum, now called Alliance, was created, and local films began surging in number.
We have a budding industry regionally because the infrastructure is being established to eventually sustain a full-time film industry. We have schools that teach the technical aspects, then it’s on to hands-on. However, we have trouble retaining our talent because our industry has not yet entirely matured. From crew members to actors, singers and models, they go to LA, San Francisco and New York to get work. We are on the verge of having a sustainable industry. By making the outside world aware of this industry and our capabilities, we can bring more productions to Fresno and the Valley. That is one thing our Film Commissioners do.
So, what does a production mean to a community in terms of revenue? A lot, actually. Let’s look at Fresno as an example with these numbers from Ray Arthur. “From 2007 through 2009, the Fresno Film Commission hosted 55 productions that generated an estimated $2.2 million in direct disposable income and an additional $6.5 million in induced income.” Although most productions in Fresno are small, independent and student projects, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition generated “an estimated $750,000, second was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull at $280,000. Gibbs touts that Fresno County has held steady in terms of its production numbers. “More productions are filming in California due to the new State incentive, which has increased interest in Fresno County.” Gibbs says that aside from job creation, “the direct economic impact of filming… was $6.38 million over the last five years.” She says it averages about $1.5 million per year in direct economic impact. County productions include the feature Click, TV series Wife Swap and national commercials and print ads.
Speaking of money, through the downturn of the economy, Gibbs says it did not impact her office. Fresno, on the other hand, officially cut the Commissioner’s position and Arthur is now working for free. Yes, free. He explains how this came about: “The City [of Fresno] agreed to transition [the department] to Creative Fresno, through an MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding), and revised it to eliminate the entertainment portion, except those directly related to film.” In other words, there is no funding for marketing or operations, but they are working on getting an actual budget together if they are sponsored by someone else.
But a film with a decent budget doesn’t just affect the cast and crew, it pulls in ancillary industries, and not just hotels and restaurants but retail stores, the medical field, equipment companies, IT, to name a few, with a far-reaching arm into the community dropping its dollars right in. In small productions, everyone doubles and quadruples up on duties, but in larger productions there is an amazing symbiotic relationship between all the departments who must work together. We could talk for hours about all those various departments, but suffice it to say each position is specialized with a set of necessary skills needed to fulfill their role to make a movie happen.
As filmmakers, we are lucky to be here, aside from the geographical diversity and great local talent. I can speak from experience, having worked in feature films, national and local commercials, and independent productions. For instance, Fresno County itself has no film permits or fees; they guide productions to the right jurisdiction in which it will take place — city, county or special district. Fresno city does have a permit, but it’s free. San Francisco, for instance, charges $300 per day of shooting for film or TV, which doesn’t include a Business License if filming over a week, minimum wage requirements, additional payroll tax, and so on.
Now that you know a little more about local film, I hope you’ll support this growing industry by doing simple things like attending local film events, cautiously offering up your property to a local production, donating to an institution that provides education in this field, volunteering as an extra to see the work involved first hand (crews work twelve-hour-days, usually six days a week), and let’s not forget not honking when a production is shooting. The economic impact of filming locally is wide-reaching and in this economy, we can use all the help we can get.
See you at the cinema.