Filmmakers and crew on the set of "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" while shooting in front of Tosca Café. The movie shot in San Francisco between May and August 2013. Courtesy of MattySF

A mere seven days of shooting the pilot to HBO’s “Looking” in the Mission brought in nearly $500,000 in revenue to the city of San Francisco, according to the San Francisco Film Commission.  The HBO dramedy series, set to release January 19, 2014, also paid 113 local employees (i.e., grips, extras, etc.) $165,258 in wages.

In return, the city cut a check to HBO for $65,270.90.

Not as a thank you, but as a rebate.

Any money that production companies get back, that’s where they will go, explained Lauren Machado, production and marketing manager at San Francisco Film Commission.

“They highly consider money elements before anything else,” said Machado, adding that “Looking” would have been shot in a different city as Los Angeles if not for the rebate program.

This is not to say as iconic as San Francisco is, it’s not enough. After all, “Vertigo” was filmed at Fairmont Hotel and Mission San Francisco de Asis. “The Graduate” was filmed at the San Francisco Zoo. And “Dirty Harry” was filmed in the Embarcadero and Chinatown, to name a few.

All the same, Machado said, to get filmmaking here, the city needed this program.

San Francisco’s Scene Rebate program, which started in 2006, reimburses film or TV productions for shooting in city-owned properties. Examples include City Hall, Bill Grahams Civic Center and warehouses (e.g., “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” filmed at City Hall). The goal behind the program is to provide filmmakers an incentive to shoot in the Bay Area.

Since its launch, 14 productions have taken part in the program, according to records provided by the San Francisco Film Commission. Collectively, those productions received $1,767,040.03 in rebates.

However, more money is coming into the city than leaving.

Records show that during the same period, production spending brought $42,519,922.30 into the city. Wages by the productions’ 4,320 local employees also netted $12,860,584.77. And money earned locally is often money spent locally, according to Machado.

Bottom line?

Production is on the rise in San Francisco and it’s providing ample economic benefits to the city, thanks to the Scene rebate program.

Filming Locations Rebate Program by MissionLocal

Shooting on location in the city is up by 40 percent compared to two years ago, according to the Film Commission.

Since 2006, more than 40 films and TV productions have been shot in San Francisco, including the Mission. Shooting periods can range: A series will take months, features will take two to three weeks and commercials will wrap in a weekend. Commercial shoots make up 75 percent of productions in the city, according to the Film Commission.

Currently, there are eight car commercials, including BMW, Jeep, GMC and Fiat, that have shot/are shooting in the city.

The number of car commercials tells us that San Francisco provides ample car shoot opportunities. These include great reflections off cars in the Financial District locations, beautiful hills and vistas like Twin Peaks and Russian Hill, which cars can drive down, explained Machado.

With such a boost in production, it was no wonder that in July 2012, the board of supervisors voted unanimously to extend the rebate program an additional two years, with an additional allocation of up to $2 million.

Supervisor Mark Farrell in particular has been a champion of the rebate program, notes Machado.

For more information about the Scene rebate program, including how to submit your business or home as a potential filming location, visit San Francisco Film Commission.

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Sarah McClure loves the colorful writing, and opportunity to connect to larger issues, that Arts & Culture reporting allows—she reads the Times’ Art Beat often. Here, she’s experiencing art on the street that the LA native is accustomed to seeing whiz-by from car windows. She is a Master's degree candidate at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where she is specializing in multimedia, Spanish-language reporting and Latin America.

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  1. so much misinformation subsidized by the University of California.

    when will all you grant funded “blogs” die, anyway?

    Fuck you.

  2. I’m just hoping that “Looking” actually tells the story of real single gay men in San Francisco, the people who moved here for a better life and live five to a house in the Mission and scrape by every month hoping they don’t have to move away. Instead, it looks like the main characters are techies who go out and get drunk in the Mission every night, because you know, they reeeeally don’t have much of a voice here.

  3. Rebates is the engine that drives a lot of commercial expansion. In more perfect world, we wouldn’t need to provide economic incentives to get film/tv productions,Twitter, or other companies to build, locate, or hire here. But we do. If you work in the film business, your home is here, but you work in L.A., New Mexico, Atlanta, Louisiana, North Carolina, New York, Montreal, Vancouver, etc. The rebates help us work here, spend here, sleep here. It’s a win-win for the city. Woody Allen could have easily written Blue Jasmine for any city, but, he was persuaded to shoot here because of the film incentives. But economic incentives are only part of the equation. The city lacks a modern production center. Hemingway&Gellhorn used an old pier where pigeon droppings littered the set. Trauma used an old hanger at Treasure Island that’s no longer available. HBO is using a building designed for commercial offices. None were/are suitable for a modern production. All those other cities have production centers that are designed and equipped to entice productions. If we’re going to keep big productions shooting entire projects here, and employing hundreds of local artists and crafts people, we need to build something they can use.

  4. My wife has worked for over 20 years here on film/tv crews which is not easy. Most of her colleagues live here but work regularly in Austin, New Orleans, New Mexico, Atlanta, North Carolina, Canada, New York, and, of course, L.A. to pay the rent. Without the rebate program and the fact that she’s in great demand for her skills, we would have also had to seek work elsewhere. Sarah’s correct. The first thing producers & directors look at when selecting a location, is how much money they will I save shooting here. Many other locations offer far more generous rebates and, consequently, get many more productions. Vancouver has been and is used for San Francisco scenery because of it’s resemblance to our City. But, that’s not all, in Canada, the government, and not the employer, pays for health care and other benefits saving productions a lot of money. To get even more productions, and thus more money, the City needs a production center where films/tv/web, etc. shows can erect sets. Those other locations have production centers for interior scenes.Without that, productions will continue to look elsewhere and film professionals will continue taking their skills and money to L.A. Productions do spend far more money here than they get from the City. It’s a win for us as residents and for the City as whole. We’re all hoping HBO’s Looking gets a second and subsequent season.

  5. Welcome to the new America – where working people must pay ALL their taxes, while multibillion dollar companies like Twitter and HBO get tax breaks and “sweeteners”. It stinks, and everybody knows it.

    Nobody I know got ANY benefit from the 15 trucks parked on 24th and side streets for several days – they just had a harder time finding parking. The ridiculously overstaffed union movie crew would get paid the same no matter where the shoot took place.

    Filming is tied to the parasitic real estate development industry in that it helps hype the city and drive up housing cost even farther.

    Real estate speculators, like ticks and fleas, live by sucking the blood of their hosts – just enough so they don’t kill the host.

    The parasitic real estate speculator swarm is drooling over the Mission District and the rest of the city. What you see as 3 houses of families, they see as a potentially much bigger building that would make them millions. Every square foot makes them drool, and all the more so if they can use Hollywood to hype-up the value up even more.

    The parasitic real estate speculators are busy men, so they hire bootlicks like “John” to stuff this blog with a slick BS answer to everything.

    1. Ha, nutrisystem, how much do you think the “speculators” would pay someone to post on a website like this with such a very small number of regular readers and page hits?

      You have delusions of grandeur if you think any risk-taking wealth-creator (to use my preferred ascription) would fund bluster and babble here.

      No, my modest contributions here are provided gratis. My reward is nothing but the knowledge that the arc of social justice is furthered through education and enlightenment, and that the truth is discovered through debate and discourse.

      But for the record, I’m fairly sure that a film crew being around for a few days did not evict or displace anyone. Your link there is sparse and tenuous.

  6. I wonder why San Francisco feels the need to subsidize Hollywood. Movie production is a very profitable industry but for some reason they refuse to pay their “fair share” of taxes. Local businesses have to cover those costs, because they don’t have the option of avoiding taxes by threatening to move.

    1. Cities compete with each other for movie and TV shoots because they are very lucrative to the city, as the figures in the article show.

      So SF tries to put together the best deal relative to other locations in order to secure the business. In that sense, it is no different from other types of spending on PR, advertizing, marketing and so on.

      And the city wouldn’t do it unless it comes out ahead on the deal, which it clearly does. Putting a “sweetener” in the deal can clinch movie business as in any other business. You have to pay to play.

  7. Yes, this and the related concession to Twitter to help clean up Mid-Market, are really positive steps to attract investment to SF.

    The old anti-business, tax-and-spend policies had their chance to work, and did not.

    Kudos to Campos for helping make this happen.