Unlike popular productions like “Say Anything” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” the next blockbuster film set in Seattle might be filmed in Seattle if all is successful for the city’s new film commission.
On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to create the Seattle Film Commission. The commission is charged with advising the city on developing policies and programs to advance Seattle’s film industry, including promoting sustainable growth of family-wage jobs for workers who have been historically underrepresented in the industry, according to the legislation.
Some details of the commission’s work are yet to be decided, but Councilmember Sara Nelson, who wrote the legislation, said its goals are twofold: addressing disparities in the film industry caused by systemic racism and serving as a conduit between the city and the film industry in hopes of attracting filmmakers and advancing Seattle’s creative economy. One production, she said, provides more than 200 living-wage jobs, an important part of the creative sector’s pandemic recovery.
The commission, under the Office of Economic Development, will have 11 citizen volunteers — five appointed by the City Council, five by the mayor and one by the commission itself — who represent different segments of the sector, from film labor unions to film location managers.
The legislation will now go to Mayor Bruce Harrell, who has 10 days to sign it. The legislation will go into effect 30 days after it is signed, which Harrell’s office says he plans to do.
The formation of a Seattle Film Commission was a top request from the Seattle Film Task Force, a group formed in 2019 to address the lack of filmmaking in Seattle. Separate from the city’s Office of Film and Music, which promotes the film, music and nightlife sectors and handles permitting for special events, the commission will advise the city, said Jeremy Mohn, Nelson’s chief of staff.
“This is something that film stakeholders, creatives in our city have been advocating for a very long time,” Nelson said. “A film commission of industry experts that will advise on ways to strengthen the existing film economy, find ways and new policies to help attract national production back to Seattle.” She added that the production of films set in Seattle but not filmed here “has got to stop.”
For many years, Seattle has been disregarded by filmmakers in favor of cities offering better financial incentives, like Portland and Vancouver, B.C. According to research from the Vancouver Economic Commission, film productions spent $4.1 billion in British Columbia in 2019 alone. In Washington, between 2007 and 2021, the state’s incentive program helped fund just $162 million worth of productions.
Nelson’s legislation is the city of Seattle’s contribution to a statewide effort to change that. In 2021, King County announced Harbor Island Studios, a 117,000-square-foot waterfront warehouse that was renovated to include two sound stages. Then in March, the state Legislature passed a bill to increase the annual cap on tax breaks for filmmakers from $3.5 million to $15 million.
For context, a $3.5 million cap in the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program allowed the state to financially support three or four projects per year. But a $15 million cap will allow the state to annually support three episodic series, four sizable feature films and three projects from emerging local filmmakers, said Amy Lillard, executive director of Washington Filmworks, which manages the program.
Following this progress made at the state and county levels, Nelson said she expects an uptick in filmmakers coming to Seattle, but that Seattle will not be taken seriously as a filming destination unless it has a film commission.
“[Filmmakers] want to see that the government is a partner, that they support film in this town,” she said. “We don’t have the money that other cities do for incentives, but we need to show that we’ve got the will.”
Ben Andrews, founder of the Seattle Film Summit, which hosts an annual education and networking event for filmmakers and digital creatives, has been in Seattle’s film industry for 14 years and said this type of investment from public officials has been a long time coming.
“I was in the front row just crying,” he said, referring to a news conference about the film commission on Tuesday. “I’ve spent the last 12 years being a creative-economy advocate, and a lot of that time has been spent talking to public officials, and it’s fallen on deaf ears. And I have a problem with that, because we’re the green state. Creativity should be the hub of what we do.”
Information from The Seattle Times archives was used in this report.
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