Students Carmine Chen (second from left) and Christian Martinez (far right) show Jennifer West (second from right), film commissioner of Sacramento Film + Media, a short film they worked on in Shawn Sullivan’s (left corner) animation program at Sheldon High School in Elk Grove earlier this year. (Photos courtesy of Sacramento Film + Media)

Art Exposed: Jennifer West

The Sacramento Film + Media film commissioner shares her thoughts on the state of the local filming industry and where it’s going

Back Web Only Nov 24, 2020 By Shoka

Jennifer West was still new to her role as film commissioner for the City of Sacramento’s Sacramento Film + Media office when she — and nearly everyone else in California — was sent home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

West, who has worked for the city for about six years in different positions, replaced former film commissioner Lucy Steffens in January. The film commission used to be under the umbrella of Visit Sacramento, the capital’s tourism bureau, but became its own City of Sacramento office in October 2019. 

As commissioner, West issues permits to commercial production crews — including film, television, web series and advertisements — and gathers data on the production with the goal of creating financial incentives that will attract more productions to choose Sacramento as a filming location. The office recently launched a new website, which serves as a database for productions and allows crew members to post their information and services. 

West says despite the film industry being shut down for a few months at the beginning of the pandemic, filming resumed in June with federal, state and county guidelines being met — including having only 20 people present at a location, conducting temperature checks, practicing social distancing, using protective face coverings and having hand sanitizer available — and production has been comparable to normal year, thanks to political ads being filmed in the area for the November election. Total days filmed January through October is 127, compared to 169 in 2019.

The bureau used to be part of Visit Sacramento. How is it different now that it’s a City of Sacramento office?

For the first time, it’s a full-time position. So Lucy (Steffens) was only a part-time commissioner. That’s the biggest change, that I am here full time. And then I think just the whole idea is to expand film in Sacramento. 

What kinds of things are you working on?

Since January, we’ve been keeping track of everything. I would say that we do the metrics, basically. So what I’m finding is that we mostly film commercials here in Sacramento. … We do a lot of car commercials, political commercials, which, of course, we did a lot this year. And then we do commercials for the local (businesses), like Golden 1 (Credit Union), SAFE Credit Union. And I would say that’s Sacramento’s bread and butter. … We also had a few documentaries come through, and I think that was just from the Golden State Killer this year. So Sacramento actually has a high percentage of serial killers from here. … A lot of the documentaries were using footage from our archives. …

We also do TV reality series. So “The Bachelorette” (season 16) shot an episode here. I mean, (Clare Crawley, the star,) she’s from Sacramento. … And then, of course, we have our local filmmakers, (who), for the most part, shoot here in Sacramento. … 

Raley’s filmed a commercial in October for its new store on Freeport Boulevard.

We were all sent home in March, and all film production ceased for three months. We were finally able to start permitting again (in June). … 

At the time, San Francisco (wasn’t allowed to film yet) … so we, in fact, got a bit of a boost from Bay Area productions that came to Sacramento. … I’ve talked to a couple of location managers, production managers, it was exciting — they were like, “Gosh, you know, we’re going to try to bring more here,” because they finally realized that filming in Sacramento is convenient, it’s cheap. … It’s a good thing that came out of this year (laughs).

How else has the pandemic affected the film office?

I’m just getting started in this new position and this new job and basically went home. … What was good about that is that it allowed me time to get the website up and running, which now has over 1,100 location images, it has a crew database, it has a support service database. 

How many permits are issued on average per year? 

On average, it was between 60 and 70 permits per year were issued. … Right now, we’re at 53 permits for this year already, even though (there was a) three-month shutdown. So I feel like we’re doing great. 

What kind of revenue does the film industry bring to Sacramento? 

I’ve only been keeping the metrics since January. Visit Sacramento had stats for hotel rooms and days filmed. … Since January, (I have been asking) … “What are your expenses for rentals of equipment, expendables, construction?” … $1.2 million to $1.5 million so far (this year has been) injected into the economy, which is, you know, it’s no chump change (laughs). … 

I think a lot of people still don’t understand that whether you’re filming on public or private property, you need a film permit if it’s for commercial use. … It’s not because we’re out to police anybody or wag our finger and say, “You need to do this and pay us,” because that’s not it. It’s being able to track all of this stuff: I want to know how much money film is putting back into the economy so that I can eventually justify saying, “OK, now let’s put some incentives out there, and let’s get even more film.” 

What kind of incentives do film crews have when they film in Sacramento?

Everyone in California has the $330 million (California Film and Television Tax Credit Program 3.0 tax credit to qualified taxpayers) that they can access. It’s a lot of money, but a lot of that money is spent in Southern California. … 

In Sacramento, if you, a production or a person or a crew stay in a hotel for longer than 30 days … the (Transient Occupancy Tax of 12 percent) is waived. … 

I’d like to eventually have some … tax credit if you film 60 percent of the movie or your project in Sacramento, then you get some kind of tax credit. … Additionally, we could create an incentive where if you hire a certain amount of crew that’s local, you get an additional incentive on that. … We’re comparing our market to other markets (in the country), and we’ll be able to hopefully bring our case before the city manager.

There’s been some talk in the past about Sacramento and its lack of having a soundstage. What’s the possibility of the city getting a soundstage, and what part does the commission play?

I’ve had people come through this year that say Sacramento is right for it, and they want to do it. I have somebody right now who’s looking, and they’re crunching the numbers. … I’m here to put people in touch with people, and create incentives for people to come to Sacramento.

Do you think that would be financially viable? 

I think so. You have to look at it and say how big would that soundstage is going be. Are you going to shoot car commercials in front of it? Are you going to build sets? … It would really depend on the size and the use of it. To the people who are looking right now, they feel pretty confident that it would be used.

More importantly, I think, it’s more than just a soundstage. It’s really the support services that come with that. You have to have the camera shop and the prop shop and wardrobe. … We’re looking at animation pretty strongly and (seeing) how we can keep more animators here in Sacramento.

What do you mean by that? 

Shawn Sullivan, (an animation teacher at Sheldon High School in Elk Grove), he has an animation program (called Creator X), and we’re looking to replicate his program. … We’re talking about opening an animation studio here in Sacramento, so once you’ve got these high schoolers trained up for four years, there is an actual place for them to work. 

Where ultimately would you like to see the film industry and the commission in Sacramento going?

Up and up and up. I mean, I think Sacramento has a lot to offer. … I want somebody to build a soundstage, I want somebody that opens a prop house, I want somebody to open a production house. But it will get there — it’s one of those things that you sort of have to start slow.

Are there any productions that have been completed in Sacramento that people would be surprised to hear were filmed here?

The Bachelorette is pretty high profile. I just saw the first episode. … We have a lot of NBA stuff, we did “Live Rescue.” … “Top Gear America,” they filmed in Old Sac. … 

One of the last exciting (projects) — you know who Hasan Minhaj is? His parents live in … (the area). I’m not sure exactly what (the project) is until it comes out, but it was a commercial-slash-web series.

Hasan Minhaj, a comedian and Davis native, filmed a promotional video for a shoe collaboration with Cole Haan at Empress Tavern and Punch Line in Sacramento in September.

Is there anything else you wanted to add?

What I mostly need from the local community, business owners and homeowners, is to go on (our website, and list your property. Show us how great it is if you want us to film there, if you want productions to see your office building or office space or ranch or whatever it is, let us know about it. … It does not need to be a Fab 40s house, it could be any location. Do you have a liquor store? I’m open. Do you have a parking lot? Would you allow filming? There’s an incentive there because film production and TV production brings a lot of money with them, and you could make money on this. 

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