Made in SF: Godzilla and the big block on blockbusters in California

Currently in theaters (and shaking the walls over at Sundance Kabuki) is Godzilla, the epic monster movie attempt and once again a big blockbuster showcases San Francisco losing out to Canada for production work.

Do you recognize San Francisco in this trailer? Honestly?

For a film that places San Francisco at the center of key scenes it is definitely lacking in real San Francisco. Now, worldwide audiences won’t know the difference but the SF Film Commission sure does.

The film had just four production days in San Francisco total – most of which was for establishing shots only.

As usual the culprit is the lure of stronger monetary incentives offered by competitive cities such as Vancouver, which was the stand-in for SF this time around. This is a familiar scenario with big action films “set” in the city by the bay. James Franco and crew barely made a visit for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

Last week the California Assembly Committee on Revenue and Taxation had a hearing to consider legislation to extend and expand California’s TV and movie tax credit program to bring back investment and jobs.

As stated in a previous article, California lags behind states such as New York, which offers more than 4x California credits annually.

The bill, AB 1839, would expand eligibility to include blockbuster-budgeted films. With luck, the backers hope AB 1839 will find approval from the Assembly, Senate, and Governor Brown by fall.

One key part of the measure is designed to specifically aid cities like San Francisco. It provides an extra 5 percent credit to films that shoot in cities outside LA. Mayors from Sacramento, San Francisco, Fresno, Bakersfield, Oakland, and San Jose have endorsed the bill in support of their colleagues from southern California. California’s film industry is branching out and begging for a return to form.

Last week I spotted Murder in the First filming near Alamo Square for TNT (and Amazon’s failed BETAs was largely filmed in SF) however the larger budget films which bring huge sums of money and labor demand to a city are stymied by the inability to even apply for state let alone city tax credits. The amount of middle-class entertainment jobs the city has lost, not to mention the state, is a big problem. This is not only for the gaffers and camera crew but for the vendors who benefit from productions taking place in their neighborhoods.

Blockbusters have long been filmed out of state but are more frequently moving overseas as each release flashes by. While not my favorite genre of film, these productions are the bread and butter of so many. Not to mention they’re financial fuel to thousands of independent projects. This isn’t just a Hollywood issue to say the least.

Will filming blockbusters in California or the US quickly become a non-viable business decision?