Seattle takes big step in hopes of luring more film, TV productions to city

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The next time your favorite movie or TV show is set in Seattle, it might actually have been filmed on location. That’s the hope of the city now that it’s green-lit the new Seattle Film Commission – a panel meant to serve as a conduit between the Emerald City and the silver screen.

“What’s at stake is the future of the creative economy and particularly film in Seattle, because film is a driver of economic growth,” said City Councilmember Sara Nelson, who sponsored the legislation to create the commission.

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The measure passed the Seattle City Council unanimously Tuesday and is expected to be signed by Mayor Bruce Harrell in the coming days. The commission will consist of 11 people qualified to represent Seattle’s film industry. Five members will be appointed by the council, five by Mayor Bruce Harrell, and one by the commission itself.

Nelson says Seattle has lost its competitive edge when it comes to attracting productions and is losing out on — not only the money that these studios could bring — but a seat at the table.

“Other cities have a lot of incentives. But really, it’s not about the money, it’s about the knowledge. We need industry experts in Seattle to help us frame policies that will allow us to retain the jobs in film here. I’m talking about living wage jobs, and that’s why labor is so fiercely supportive of this effort,” she explained.

“We don’t want to lose any more creatives; they’re already getting priced out of town. What the city needs is direction to help keep those people here,” Nelson added.

Nelson says the film community has been calling on the city for years to do something more to support the industry, and this year the stars aligned.

“We formed a task force, and they produced a report that said a film commission was their top priority. So part of what I’m doing is just what they say and finally building on the momentum that we’ve got at the state and the county,” Nelson said, referring to the $15 million in State Film incentives passed by the Legislature this year and King County’s opening of Harbor Island studios.

Harbor Island Studios is a 117,000-square-foot soundstage that was opened in King County at the former Fisher Flour Mill.

“We now have a new mayor, a new director of economic development, and we’re a united front. We have to build on this momentum. The stars are aligning, and it’s now time to coordinate our efforts with our partners in the rest of the state and do this,” said Nelson.

Nelson touts the 200 jobs a large production can bring to the region, and disputes critics who say many of the positions will be filled by crews the production brings with them from outside the city.

“Yes, production, large productions come from outside, but they’re hiring local crews. They’re hiring local managers and truckers. It’s 200 jobs that are associated with your typical large film. They’re not bringing all those people; they’re hiring people on the ground,” she said, noting that this is what she is hearing from local production managers who say the local creative community needs those jobs.

Local filmmaker Anthony Tackett could not agree more.

“We have to hustle for jobs and that’s hard, it’s tiring, it wears people out,” he explained at an event ahead of the final vote Tuesday.

“Some people have left the city and have threatened to leave the city if it does not change. So, I think this is a great opportunity for the city of Seattle to step up” added Tackett.

As far as Nelson is concerned, she welcomes the opportunity to focus on some positive change.

‘This does show that Seattle is alive and well and film is happening here. And it’s happening on our streets and in our parks, with more life on the street. More activity is good for everyone, not just the production but our local businesses and residents,” Nelson explained. “And so it all plays together to revitalize not just film, not just the creative economy, but the city as a whole,”

And Nelson has a vision for the city’s near future.

“Three years from now, when you look at Seattle, and if you’re out in a movie theater, and you’re watching a film about Seattle, it’ll be filmed here. That’s what I’ll say. We’ll be seeing new businesses, new actors, and writers and creatives that are staying here. We’ll just be seeing more activity in the sector. You’ll be going to your café and your neighborhood and boom, there will be a film being produced there. It remains to be seen how fulfilling this potential that we’re creating right now. But you know, it can only get better.” Nelson said.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here. 

Seattle takes big step in hopes of luring more film, TV productions to city

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