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Mayor's office leading revival of film commission

Two years ago, the San Diego Tourism Authority laid off 40 percent of its staff, including the three-person office of the San Diego Film Commission, due to insufficient funding.

Now the mayor’s office and San Diego City Council are reviving it.

The city council voted in June to approve $100,000 from its fiscal 2016 budget to reinstate the commission.

The mayor’s office has allocated an additional $125,000 to start the program, which will be called the San Diego Film Office, said Charles Chamberlayne, press secretary and senior adviser to Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

“The plan right now is to put a (request for information) out, get feedback from the public and give them a say on the direction the new San Diego Film Office should go,” Chamberlayne said.

He added that the mayor’s office will spearhead this process, including finding one full-time program manager to lead the office.

There is no hard timetable for the request for information, but Chamberlayne said he expects the request for proposal to be out before the end of this year.

Feedback from the request for information will determine what will go into the request for proposal, he said.

Eric Pierson, professor of communication studies and film at the University of San Diego since 1999, said he would like to see the leaders of the San Diego Film Office not only have great knowledge of the entire county and what various locations have to offer, but also the business and marketing side of movies and television.

“The board will need people who know places as far north as Temecula all the way down to the border,” Pierson said. “Someone who understands and knows how TV and film work and someone that understands marketing, because you will need to convince studios to come and film in San Diego.”

Pierson added that the film office should also have volunteers, internships and scholarships, work with local schools and universities, and unite the various local film festivals to bring more independent filming productions to San Diego.

“A city of this size needs an entity that goes out and entices filmmaking and programs to come to San Diego,” Pierson said.

The mayor’s office wants the new film office to help bring in state tax credits for filming in San Diego and outside spending from film crews, and to create jobs for locals who want to work on the sets of movies and television shows.

“The clear goal is to bring more opportunities to San Diego,” Chamberlayne said. “It’s about creating jobs, not just for actors but for local engineers, technicians, Web developers, digital graphic artists -- we want this to be kind of an economic booster for the city.”

For the last two years, TNT’s “The Last Ship” has been filming the first two seasons of its show in San Diego. Filming has been done entirely on U.S. Navy bases, except for parts of the pilot episode.

“The Last Ship” is an American post-apocalyptic television drama series based on a novel by William Brinkley. The crew of a lone U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer must try to find a cure and save humanity after a viral pandemic wipes out more than 80 percent of the world's population.

“For the show, we needed a destroyer and Naval Base San Diego was the closest to Los Angeles,” said Hank Steinberg, co-creator and executive producer of “The Last Ship.”

“The Navy was incredible,” Steinberg added. “They gave us tremendous accesses to their ship and base.”

The crew of about 170 people was in San Diego for about a week in November, shooting 13 episodes for the second season during the day and night.

“We were able to hire some local people to be a part of the film crew,” Steinberg said.

Local Navy men and women were also used as extras on the show.

“We expect to be back for a third season, but nothing has been made official yet,” Steinberg said.

Originally, the San Diego Film Commission was a nonprofit created by then-San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson in 1976. It was first called the San Diego Motion Picture and Television Bureau.

The commission was originally a division of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce but was spun off to become its own independent agency in 1997.

It was incorporated into San Diego's Tourism Authority in 2012 before being cut in 2013.

The commission brought the filming of high-profile movies, including “Top Gun,” “Traffic” and “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” and television shows, like “Simon & Simon” and “Hunter,” to San Diego.

Pierson said that he doesn’t understand how the original film commission couldn’t fund itself and had to be cut.

“If you have one or two productions in San Diego each year that should pay for a year’s cost to run the film commission,” Pierson said. “You have Comic-Con, which brings movie and television studios’ production every year. The film commission should be able to set up meetings to market San Diego to bring in large productions and even independent filmmakers.”

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