On Location: Hundreds rally in San Francisco to support state film tax credit bill

San Francisco has a starring role in several current and upcoming movies, including "Godzilla," "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," "Terminator Genesis" and Marvel's "Ant-Man."
San Francisco has a starring role in several current and upcoming movies, including “Godzilla,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Terminator Genesis” and Marvel’s “Ant-Man.”
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

San Francisco has been getting a lot of screen time of late.

The city has a starring role in several current and upcoming movies, including “Godzilla,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Terminator Genesis” and Marvel’s “Ant-Man.”

But the Hollywood credits don’t count for much, says Susannah Robbins, executive director of the San Francisco Film Commission.

That’s because the city has only bit parts in the movies, which have filmed or will primarily film outside the state in locations such as Vancouver, Canada; Louisiana; Georgia; and Australia.


“We have so many films that are written about San Francisco being shot in states and countries with strong incentives and then only shooting a handful of days in our city,” Robbins said.

Fed up with the situation, Robbins organized an industry rally Saturday in San Francisco that drew more than 500 crew members, filmmakers, vendors, directors and actors, including Danny Glover. They filled the Terrace Ballroom at the Fairmont San Francisco to show their support for a bill that would expand California’s film and TV tax credit program.

The Assembly unanimously supported the bill last month. It now goes to the Senate, where it faces tougher opposition. Some Northern California filmmakers have opposed the idea of giving Hollywood more subsidies, viewing it as benefiting an industry concentrated in Southern California.

Saturday’s rally, similar to ones held in L.A. by a coalition of entertainment unions and industry groups, was intended to address that argument.

“We think it’s crucial that Northern California legislators know this is really important to all the film community in Northern California; it’s not a gift to Hollywood,” Robbins said Tuesday. “It’s important that they realize that their constituents need the film industry here, that they need the tax credits to pass, because without it we’re going to keep losing the big budget films that spend millions and millions of dollars here and hire local crews.”

AB 1839 would allow movies with budgets greater than $75 million to qualify for credits (currently only movies under that amount are eligible) and provide an additional 5% in tax credits to films shot outside of Los Angeles.


“We’re really happy about that 5% bump,” Robbins said. “That will help bring more production to San Francisco and the Bay Area because it makes it more affordable to film here.”

San Francisco supports a small but vibrant film community that hosted such long-running TV series as “The Streets of San Francisco” and “Nash Bridges” and, more recently, Woody Allen’s movie “Blue Jasmine.”

To attract filming, the city offers rebates for filmmakers for fees paid to city agencies for permits and other costs.

But those incentives haven’t been enough to keep big movies — even those based in San Francisco — from shooting elsewhere.

John Morse, an assistant director who lives in San Francisco, said he has spent most of the last seven years working on movies outside of California.

“I paid income taxes in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Louisiana,” said Morse, who spoke at the rally. “Nothing against those states, but I would prefer the money going to the state where I live and where I’m raising my children.”


Zach Keyworth, operations manager for DTC Lighting & Grip, based in Emeryville, Calif., said company revenue has dropped 25% in the last year alone.

“It affects all the people who work in my shop and my vendors,” he said. “It’s ridiculous to watch them build sets for San Francisco in Baton Rouge.”